Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issues a statement about coronavirus on March 22 in Tehran. (Iranian Supreme Leader Press Office - handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Governments between their Image and the Safety of their Populations

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, March 29

The appalling COVID-19 epidemic has revealed a political crisis no less serious than the disease itself. It has reached a stage where some governments have falsified statistics about the number of morbidities and mortalities within their jurisdiction and have even filtered hospital information. All of this is done in order to maintain a positive image of these governments both internally and externally. The catastrophe is greater in countries that have not only kept silent, but refrained from taking decisions that might tarnish their image, instead choosing to issue statements of reassurance and denial. The danger of these practices has been limited not only to their own residents, but also to those of other countries. At a time when the world is seeking greater cooperation in an effort to curb the escalation of the disease, the Americans and the Chinese are engulfed in a major propaganda war against each other. The well-oiled Chinese media campaign celebrating Beijing’s medical achievements is matched by a deliberate China smear campaign originating in the United States. This is despite the fact that President Donald Trump spoke with his Chinese counterpart and agreed to battle the virus together. The call came after the G20 summit, chaired by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, which was held ahead of its planned date at the request of Saudi Arabia, given the grave international circumstances. Many governments are finally changing their positions after realizing that lying and obfuscating with epidemic data will come back to haunt them. Indeed, the virus has been most deadly in countries like Iran, which has refused to tackle the situation in an open and transparent manner. Governments that have neither the courage to announce the correct numbers nor the audacity to make difficult decisions will pay the price more than other countries, especially as we do not know the depth of the crisis. Honesty is not a virtue, but a necessity. The World Health Organization has already announced that it will support only those countries that declare they are more affected than others. This has prompted some nations to disclose their data and finally prioritize the protection of their citizens over the protection of their image. – Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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