The pandemic has put the US in uncommon and humbling international firm.

As soon as seen as a beacon of presidency competence and a mannequin for public well being, the US has fumbled the response to the coronavirus pandemic much more than nations identified for widespread corruption, poor healthcare, and ubiquitous poverty — to the shock of many all over the world. By many measures, the US is now faring worse than Mexico, Brazil, India, and Russia.

This isn’t misplaced on individuals in these nations, lots of whom are watching the scenario unfold within the US with shock and bewilderment.

Roxana Sánchez, an economist in Mexico Metropolis, has at all times resented her nation’s corrupt presidents and appeared longingly on the seemingly upright politics of the US. However nowadays, as she watches President Donald Trump musing on tv about drinking disinfectant, she sees within the US an much more harmful type of chief: an ignorant one.

Alexey Raksha, an unbiased demographer in Moscow, grew distressed this summer season as he watched Russians emerge from months of lockdown and promptly start partying, going to eating places, and usually ignoring suggestions from public well being consultants. Coronavirus instances within the nation surged. When he turned on the TV, he was shocked to see comparable scenes enjoying out within the US. It appeared to him like Russia’s impoverished, distant areas “had loads in frequent with states like Florida, Texas, and Georgia, the place instances are at the moment spiking.”

“Within the nations the place the demise toll is the best, there isn’t any actual management.”

Nondita D’Souza, principal of a faculty in western India, watched with dismay as mother and father in her space threw mood tantrums when faculties closed due to the pandemic; she then skilled a jolt of disappointment and recognition as the identical sorts of debates enjoying out within the US.

Whereas these nations appear so totally different, the response to the pandemic in every place has underscored all the opposite issues they’ve in frequent: populist or authoritarian-leaning leaders, officers who’ve flouted the recommendation of their high scientists whereas pushing absurd treatments to battle the virus, and large swaths of the inhabitants with no security internet to assist them keep at dwelling.

“The US is now not an instance for different nations to comply with,” mentioned Sánchez, the Mexico Metropolis economist. As an alternative, she mentioned, it has change into an instance of one thing else: “Within the nations the place the demise toll is the best, there isn’t any actual management.”


Jam Media / Getty Photographs

Coronavirus safety candle in esoteric merchandise retailer in Pachuca, Mexico, April 16.

In all these nations — and others which have emerged as scorching spots — high officers initially downplayed the severity of the disaster, fumbled lockdowns, and typically even appeared to embrace magical considering to ward it off.

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador mentioned he carries palm-sized amulets as protecting shields in opposition to the coronavirus. In Russia, the place President Vladimir Putin was largely absent from the nation’s response, selfmade recipes unfold broadly, together with one for a “miracle drink” of lemon and baking soda to cleanse the physique.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India proposed banging pots and pans; his followers had been fast to flow into movies over WhatsApp suggesting the sound’s “cumulative vibration,” much like temple bells, would destroy the virus’s efficiency. Modi additionally repeatedly extolled the advantage of yoga as a “protective shield” in opposition to the virus. Final week, he and a number of other Hindu clergymen ignored social distancing guidelines to assemble and lay down the inspiration stone of a Hindu temple. (Subsequently, a priest who shared the stage with the Modi tested positive for the virus.)

Leaders had waved off the recommendation of their high scientists, so why shouldn’t everybody else?

Within the wake of such messaging, individuals in these nations have usually didn’t take the virus significantly themselves. Leaders had waved off the recommendation of their high scientists, so why shouldn’t everybody else? Particularly since, as within the US, many individuals had been advised that they had to decide on between public well being and the economic system, between catching an sickness their leaders have pooh-poohed and placing meals on the desk.

By April, because the variety of infections was multiplying quickly in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro, who known as the illness attributable to the coronavirus a “little flu,” fired his broadly beloved well being minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta. Whereas Mandetta had been urging social distancing, Bolsonaro demanded individuals return to work.

In Russia, Putin initially ordered a nationwide paid vacation in late March, when there have been lower than 1,000 confirmed COVID-19 instances, however he quickly sloughed much of the power and responsibility to regional governors. A few of them imposed restrictions on public transport and public gatherings, and citywide lockdowns for these hardest hit; in Moscow, residents had been required to obtain a digital move to go away dwelling.

However caught off guard, many regional governments had been lower than the problem, and their responses had been complicated or lackluster. Because of this, many Russians went about their day by day lives, flouting or ignoring public well being suggestions, reminiscent of carrying face masks. Information reviews described restaurants and bars in Moscow and St. Petersburg as being close to full capability whereas infections surged; homeowners complained about the financial hit long-term closures would trigger.

A lot of the measures had been progressively lifted beginning in Might, when Putin said the country should reopen and folks ought to get again to work. The day by day charges of an infection surged. However, a lot of the nation continued to behave as if all the pieces was advantageous. A New York Times story printed at first of August quoted younger Russians who’re out partying once more at bars with out masks as a result of they “wish to have a life.”

In Mexico, Hugo López-Gatell Ramírez, the deputy well being minister in command of the federal government’s coronavirus response, advised individuals to maintain their distance, keep dwelling, and put on masks. López Obrador flouted every of those recommendations, persevering with to hug individuals, journey, and go maskless, even in crowded rooms.

One of many solely occasions that López Obrador has worn a masks in public was when he went to fulfill Trump, who himself has stoked the raging debate over masks use within the US.

In Acapulco, a significant vacationer port metropolis on Mexico’s Pacific coast, individuals continued attending weddings and internet hosting quinceañeras. And it wasn’t simply locals — skeptical individuals from Mexico Metropolis who drove to Acapulco to journey out the pandemic of their luxurious condominiums have additionally been throwing events. The federal government, regardless of its lackadaisical and conflicted stance, ultimately deployed the Mexican Nationwide Guard to interrupt them up.

“It has been a problem to make individuals perceive that the coronavirus is, for starters, actual,” Adela Román Ocampo, the mayor of Acapulco, advised BuzzFeed Information.

On the identical time, when many of those locations did lastly lock down, they did so and not using a plan to spice up the social security internet.

In India, Modi imposed one of many harshest lockdowns on the planet in late March. Some individuals had been confined to their properties for weeks, however the lockdown additionally left thousands and thousands stranded with out work, unable to make lease, or feed their households and likewise unable to go away the cities for his or her hometowns.

This, in keeping with Supriya Sharma, an editor on the Indian information web site, is when the difficulty started. “Rural migrants had been forcibly held again in cities for 2 months as infections rose. Once they had been lastly allowed to go dwelling, they took the virus from city hotspots to rural areas throughout the nation,” Sharma advised BuzzFeed Information over electronic mail. “Now, instances are rising in each state, each area of the nation — even Bihar and Odisha the place the well being infrastructure is extraordinarily poor. Frontline employees are fatigued, hospitals are overwhelmed, and the financial disaster means there’s little scope for any extra lockdowns.”

There are echoes of all this in what has occurred within the US. In April, Trump famously spoke on nationwide tv about the potential for shining a powerful beam of light or disinfectant inside sufferers to kill the coronavirus. He additionally repeatedly known as for the economy, and later schools, to be reopened, absent what many consultants mentioned was an actual plan to take action safely. His administration has undercut his personal public well being consultants, as when his aides offered campaign-style opposition analysis on Dr. Anthony Fauci.

What these leaders have in frequent “is the lack to navigate ambiguity and the necessity for certainty, even when it’s baseless” Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan College, advised BuzzFeed Information. “And in a pandemic, that turns into a lethal mixture.”


Sopa Photographs / SOPA Photographs / LightRocket by way of Getty Photographs

A well being employee in New Delhi carrying a protecting swimsuit takes a nasal swab from a person to check for COVID-19.

Even earlier than the pandemic, public healthcare in these nations was in hassle. Many hospitals suffered from crumbling infrastructure, medication shortages, and ill-prepared staffers.

In Mexico, López Obrador applied steep finances cuts shortly after his inauguration in 2018. Docs, nurses, and sufferers complained of empty medication cupboards and delayed surgical procedures. When the coronavirus hit the nation of 126 million, many individuals stayed away from hospitals, that are perceived as inefficient and even harmful.

Blanca Imelda, a nurse in a clinic in Culiacán in Sinaloa state, grew to become contaminated with the virus in late April. Instantly, she advised her youngsters: “If I get very ailing, I’d fairly die at dwelling than over there,” referring to the native hospital. Imelda, 58, mentioned medical doctors didn’t have the assets to offer sufferers optimum care.

When her son grew to become contaminated, a physician advised her by phone to manage hydroxychloroquine. Her son had a nasty response; Imelda was unable to take care of him at dwelling, and she or he rushed him to the hospital. Staffers advised her that he was now not contaminated and turned them away. As Imelda hooked him as much as an IV at dwelling, she prayed, asking God to spare him. He survived.

In Russia, the healthcare system has been underfunded and in abysmal form for many years. Apart from some hospitals in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the nation’s two most populated cities, most healthcare services are dilapidated and undergo extreme shortages of medical doctors, nurses, gear, and drugs. Furthermore, medical staffers work lengthy hours (typically 48-hour shifts with simply 24 hours in between) for little or no cash, in keeping with news reports and consultants who spoke to BuzzFeed Information. Then got here the pandemic, inundating already overburdened hospitals and medical doctors with much more sufferers than they had been used to seeing.

As Imelda hooked him as much as an IV at dwelling, she prayed, asking God to spare him. He survived.

Dmitry Seryogin, a paramedic within the metropolis of Oryol, about 225 miles south of Moscow, advised BuzzFeed Information that early within the pandemic there was a extreme lack of non-public protecting gear for hospital staffers, resulting in medical employees getting contaminated with the coronavirus. Many medical doctors and nurses died — however their deaths usually went unreported. So Alexey Erlikh, a Moscow heart specialist, cofounded an advocacy group for medical employees that created a “reminiscence record” of Russian healthcare employees who’ve died of COVID-19 after treating coronavirus sufferers.

The scenario is eerily comparable in India, the place the variety of instances has crossed 1.5 million. Some estimate the nation may overtake the US and Brazil with the most cases in the world by early 2021. At current, India has seven doctors and 17 nurses for every 10,000 people. (The worldwide common is 13.9 medical doctors and 28.6 nurses per 10,000.)

In the meantime, many individuals in India have handled medical professionals as a risk, apprehensive that they’re carrying the virus. Medics in a number of components of the nation had been harassed, assaulted, and even evicted on suspicion of being infected till the federal government lastly intervened, warning residents and police to put off frontline employees.

The US, against this, spends greater than some other nation on healthcare. And but its system has additionally buckled. Because the Atlantic’s Ed Yong famous, the nation has squandered immense resources, leaving residents and healthcare employees prey to an expensive and ineffective healthcare system. In the meantime, a historical past of systemic racism in its healthcare system further endangers already vulnerable sections of the population.


Sergei Konkov / Sergei Konkov/TASS

An worker of the Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Client Rights Safety and Human Wellbeing scanning passengers’ physique temperatures with a thermal imaging digital camera at Pulkovo Worldwide Airport in St. Petersburg.

On high of crumbling public well being techniques and the “magical considering” method, these nations have additionally been stricken by spotty testing; plus, in lots of instances, defective or manipulated statistics have made it troublesome or inconceivable for public well being officers and epidemiologists to get a deal with on the unfold.

This has performed out within the US ever for the reason that pandemic’s early days, starting when errors at the CDC led to a severe shortage of tests. Since then, Trump has repeatedly promoted a specious declare that case numbers are excessive as a result of nation’s excessive testing quantity, and has even known as for slowing down testing. In latest weeks, testing has declined sharply in hot spot states, which has epidemiologists apprehensive that instances are being missed.

In India, the well being ministry has wheeled out statistics to spice up public confidence. However the nation’s testing price is dangerously low: Whereas greater than 2 million assessments have been administered, India continues to be solely testing round 4,100 individuals per million. (The worldwide common is 29,000 assessments per million.) Sulakshana Nandi, director of Individuals’s Well being Motion, a rural well being advocacy group, advised BuzzFeed Information that “enormous variety of instances are being missed, primarily attributable to grossly insufficient testing.”

Even the one factor Modi has congratulated himself for — that India has the lowest fatality rate among the worst-affected countries — is perhaps false.

“We’re lacking COVID-19 deaths in the identical approach that we’re lacking instances attributable to much less testing,” Nandi mentioned. “In India, death-reporting by the federal government has at all times been an issue. There’s a long-standing apply of underreporting particular illness mortality. Now we have seen that on the subject of malaria, tuberculosis, dengue, and plenty of others.”

“In my view, the variety of instances and deaths could also be underestimated with a purpose to calm the inhabitants.”

In Russia, well being consultants and a former authorities statistician advised BuzzFeed Information that the variety of coronavirus instances and associated deaths are being drastically undercounted.

Alexey Raksha, the Moscow demographer, labored for Rosstat, the Russian federal statistics company, earlier than being compelled out early this yr for talking out about flaws in its recording system. He has studied mortality charges all through the county for the reason that early days of the pandemic and in contrast them with official demise counts. He rapidly discovered inconsistencies, he mentioned.

As an illustration, the variety of deaths recorded in Moscow in April, 11,846, was virtually 20% larger than that of the identical month final yr, and in Might the quantity was 15,713, about 58% larger that the earlier yr, Raksha mentioned. But in April this yr, simply 658 deaths had been attributed to COVID-19, and in Might the determine was simply 2,757. Studies from the town of St. Petersburg and throughout the nation had been comparable, Raksha mentioned. That implies that officers had been lacking or undercounting deaths.

Russia’s Ministry of Well being had reported 932,493 instances and 15,872 deaths as of Wednesday. However based mostly on Raksha’s calculations, the precise variety of coronavirus instances within the nation “may in all probability be 1.2, 1.3, or 1.4 million” with the true variety of deaths nearer to 40,000.

COVID-19 Corridor Of Disgrace

As of August 21, 2020


Inhabitants: 210 million
Reported infections: 3,501,975
Reported deaths: 112,304

Populist right-wing chief. Common healthcare however public well being expenditure per capita has been declining. Unbiased media that Bolsonaro deems his enemy.


Inhabitants: 1.4 billion
Reported infections: 2,905,825
Reported deaths: 54,849

Populist, right-wing chief. A as soon as strong public healthcare system has crumbled beneath years of neglect, forsaking a number of stretched high-quality public hospitals. Those that can afford it go to personal hospitals which have a status for value gouging. Nearly all media is corporate-owned, and virtually all of it kowtows to the BJP.


Inhabitants: 127 million
Reported infections: 543,806
Reported deaths: 59,106

Populist left-leaning chief (with main caveats). International healthcare although in shambles (medication shortages, crumbling infrastructure). Mixture of unbiased and state-funded media.


Inhabitants: 144 million
Reported infections: 939,833
Reported deaths: 16,058

Authoritarian chief. State-provided healthcare. Highly effective and obedient state-run media.


Inhabitants: 331 million
Reported infections: 5,573,847
Reported deaths: 174,255

Populist right-wing chief with authoritarian tendencies who has downplayed and politicized the outbreak. Poorly coordinated federal response on testing coupled with costly and ineffective personal healthcare system. Trump steadily characterizes media protection of pandemic as pretend information.

Supply: Johns Hopkins College

Seryogin, the paramedic in Oryol, mentioned he additionally doubts the official coronavirus statistics, based mostly on what he has seen. “In my view, the variety of instances and deaths could also be underestimated with a purpose to calm the inhabitants,” he mentioned.

He added that restricted testing is partly accountable for the alleged inaccuracies. He mentioned individuals are at the moment solely examined for COVID-19 at hospitals when they’re recognized with pneumonia and that authorities are additionally not counting deaths as being associated to COVID-19 if the individual had a preexisting situation.

For the federal government’s half, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova lauded the country’s testing capacity in April. As of Wednesday, it had performed a complete of 17,803,955 assessments, according to the Ministry of Health. Furthermore, Putin boasted this month of approving the world’s first coronavirus vaccine, though there may be skepticism over its efficacy and security.

And in Mexico, officers admitted that there have been 71,314 extra deaths in 20 of the 32 states between March 15 and June 27 — the official COVID-19 demise depend is simply 59,106. The federal government got here beneath hearth in Might, after the information media reported that the demise toll in Mexico Metropolis was greater than 3 times what the official figures claimed.

By July, half the assessments in Mexico had been coming again constructive, an indication that solely those that current critical signs are getting examined. In accordance with the World Well being Group, nations shouldn’t reopen their economies till they get check positivity charges at 5% or decrease.

But, regardless of Mexico having the best proportion of constructive assessments on the planet, eating places in lots of components of the nation boast full tables, shops try to lure individuals again with deep reductions, and subway platforms are packed.


Silvia Izquierdo / AP

Crosses, pink balloons, and Brazilian flags are positioned within the sand on Copacabana seaside in an indication to honor the victims of COVID-19, because the nation heads to a milestone of 100,000 new coronavirus associated deaths, in Rio de Janeiro, Aug. 8.

Mriga Kapadiya, co-owner and cofounder of the NorBlack NorWhite attire line, is a Canadian citizen of Indian origin who discovered herself locked down in south India when journey restrictions first hit the nation.

Over the previous couple of months, Kapadiya mentioned, she has repeatedly checked on mates in Toronto, New York, and Los Angeles. The variations had been stark.

In Toronto, her mates had “strong authorities welfare assist,” she mentioned, and “a steady revenue to at the least pay lease and create a while and house to consider subsequent steps.”

However in New York, “the dearth of presidency assist, bodily house, main job cuts coupled with the rebellion and political local weather, it appears to be extraordinarily troublesome on each single degree.”

She sees in New York the identical factor as in India: Individuals have given up on the concept that the federal government will preserve them protected, fed, or housed. They’re on their very own to guard themselves from the virus, and to determine the right way to make a residing because it rages round them.

Emilio Reyes, an antiques vendor in Mexico Metropolis, mentioned he can’t depend on his authorities. When the pandemic first reached Mexico, Reyes mentioned, he underestimated its potential. And as he watched López Obrador zigzag the nation — hugging and kissing individuals throughout political occasions in April, with a lot of the world already in lockdown — Reyes grew to become satisfied the virus was nothing to fret about. However then a relative died. Neighbors and shut mates quickly adopted.

“Mexico doesn’t give a fuck,” he mentioned. “The factor in regards to the authorities serving to individuals? That’s a present.” ●