Health & Education

Politicians with COVID-19

Equality and COVID-19

Dealing with a virus that does not recognize skin color or social class.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson shakes hands with members of the audience as he visits a JCB factory during his general election campaign in Uttoxeter, Britain, December 10, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

Though we may be accustomed to hearing that power and money can’t buy you happiness, empirical evidence seems to contradict that statement quite often. As they say, it is better to cry in a Ferrari than a Fiat.

For all the things that divide us in life, and with growing wealth gaps making the difference between the very rich and the very poor ever clearer, there are some areas where equality remains unaffected, most notably in terms of virulent diseases.

That’s right, as the COVID-19 virus infects nearly one million people worldwide, the cases of high profile leaders being positively diagnosed with the virus is also climbing, perhaps at an even higher rate than would be expected as a percentage of the population.

Last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he tested positive for COVID-19 and was put in quarantine as the UK ramps up measures to deal with the crisis.

Also in the British isles, Prince Charles, the 71 year-old heir to Queen Elizabeth’s throne, has also been diagnosed with the virus. The royal family has moved to Windsor Castle to quarantine in safety.

Across Europe more and more political leaders have come forward stating that they too have fallen prey to the virus. At the EU level, the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, has opted for self-quarantine after he returned from a trip in Italy, while the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has tested positive for the virus. This development risks delaying Brexit negotiations even more.

The settlement of trade rules between the UK and the EU was scheduled to be concluded by the end of the year. In France, Culture Minister Franck Riester tested positive earlier this month, with five other people working at the national assembly also being diagnosed with COVID-19.

In Italy, which continues to suffer with Europe’s largest outbreak, the leader of the Italian Democratic Party Nicola Zingaretti has also announced he had tested positive. In Poland, General JarosÅ‚aw Mika, the general commander of Branches of the Armed Forces has been diagnosed with the virus as well. In Germany, Friedrich Merz, slated as one of the possible successors of Angela Merkel as Germany’s chancellor, has also tested positive.

Spain, one of the world’s nations most affected by the virus, has also seen its share of political leaders testing positive. Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo, Irene Montero, Spain’s equality minister, Javier Ortega Smith, secretary general of the far-right Vox party, health emergency chief Fernando Simon or Begoña Gómez, the wife of Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez, are only some of leaders that have tested positive, while the vast majority of politicians in the country that are currently quarantined. Princess Maria Teresa passed away from the disease at the age of 86.

Another relevant case includes Prince Albert II of Monaco, who has also tested positive on March 19.

Beyond the old continent, the cases are also plenty among political leaders. Iraj Harirchi, the head of the Iranian counter-coronavirus task force, became notorious for appearing at a press conference downplaying the effects of the virus while showing the most typical symptoms of the disease. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 soon after on February 25.

Two vice-presidents, three cabinet officials, 9% of the members of parliament, the director of emergency medical services, the chief of the crisis-management organization and senior Revolutionary Guard officers have all been announced as having contracted the virus since then. At least two lawmakers have died as a result of the pandemic.

To the East, the Australian Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, tested positive too, and in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu started to self-quarantine after an aide was found to have contracted the disease.

Finally, in the Americas, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has decided to self-quarantine as his wife was diagnosed with the virus, while in the US, Senator Rand Paul became the first US Senator to test positive on March 22. Soon after, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez also announced he was down with the disease. President Donald Trump himself was feared to be infected as he had been on numerous occasions in close contact with people later found to be infected. Subsequent tests came out negative.

The same was not true for the Brazilian ambassador to Washington, Nestor Forster, who attended a party where Trump was present just over a week ago, and was later been found to be infected. Fabio Wajngarten, the press secretary for the Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, has also been found to be carrying the disease. The Brazilian president, who has led a campaign downplaying the relevance of the COVID-19 outbreak and has asked people to ignore curfews imposed at the state level, has tested negative for the virus.

For the moment, African leaders seem to remain relatively unaffected by the virus, but as the outbreak grows in the Mother Continent, that is likely to change.

This is only an incomplete list, and yet one that shows that for all its devastating impacts, one thing that must be said about this health crisis is that the virus knows no race nor social class. If anything, it seems to have a preference for the powerful.

While there aren’t definitive explanations for why the political class seems to be more affected than the average, one can assume that the relatively old age of most politicians and the very nature of the job that involves meeting a large number of people traveling from different corners of the world and to partake in a lot of handshakes, might make the group particularly susceptible to the infection.

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