What Are the Consequences When Political Leaders Violate COVID-19 Health Regulations?
EU Trade Commissioner resigned after being accused of violating COVID-19 health rules in Ireland
Accurate (supported by evidence and facts; acceptable margin of error)
At the end of August 2020, an article in the newspaper Le Figaro reported that Phil Hogan, the European Trade Commissioner resigned "after being accused of violating anti-coronavirus health rules in Ireland by attending a gala dinner". This statement is accurate.
The information reported by Le Figaro first appeared in the newspaper Irish Examiner. The publication of this information caused a scandal now called #GolfGate. It is mentioned in the Irish newspaper that on August 19, 2020, Mr. Phil Hogan attended a dinner for more than 80 people, organized for the 50th anniversary of the Irish Parliament Golf Club. The event came one day after the Irish authorities tightened measures against Covid-19 because of the increase in the number of cases. Government rules limited indoor gatherings, such as this one, to six people, and the maximum number of people around a table must also be six. As of August 30, there were 28,579 confirmed cases and 1,777 deaths. And as of October 15, up to 50 patrons are permitted and in pods or groups of up to 6 if appropriate, with arrangements to ensure no intermingling of groups. Currently there are 45,243 confirmed cases and 1,835 deaths.
Before the dinner, Hogan had ended his 14-day quarantine after arriving in Ireland because he had tested negative for Coronavirus. But the Irish Department of Health says a 14-day quarantine is mandatory for anyone not from a green-listed country. The guidelines even include people who have tested negative to COVID-19.
On July 25, Mr. Phil Hogan first issued a statement in which he detailed his movements from July 31 to August 21 during his stay in Ireland. Then on July 26, the day after the communiqué, Mr. Hogan presented his resignation to the President of the European Commission, Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen. In his letter of resignation, Mr. Hogan explained apologized and said he understood the pain and anger of the public when they "feel that public authorities are not living up to the qualities expected of them". Our verdict is therefore that the Le Figaro newspaper's statement about Phil Hogan's resignation is accurate.
The direct impact of #GolfGate
This scandal was felt in Irish political ranks, but also in European ones. Irish personalities such as Dara Calleary, Minister of Agriculture, and Jerry Buttimer, Deputy Speaker of the Senate, also apologized and then resigned in the wake of the scandal. Supreme Court Justice Seamus Woulfe only made a public apology but did not resign.
At the European level, as EU Trade Commissioner, Hogan was responsible for leading the post-Brexit negotiations and discussions on trade relations between Europe and the United States. His decision to violate health rules, which caused his departure, could have an impact on these processes.
Leadership and trust in times of crisis
The impact of political leaders' non-compliance with health regulations is felt at several levels. During a period of crisis, people need to be informed and reassured by the authorities. In addition, leaders need to rise to the occasion by providing appropriate solutions and being transparent to the public. For the population, the leader becomes a rock in troubled waters, a source of comfort capable of providing support in times of stress.
Public confidence in the government's ability to manage a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial. This trust shapes people's behaviour, especially when it comes to following the rules. However, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, several politicians have undermined public confidence by breaking the rules put in place to fight the spread of the virus. Why should the public play by the rules when their leaders do not? If viruses and diseases do not distinguish between political, economic, racial, or linguistic status, why should leaders? This results in a questioning of leadership and crisis management. Government efforts are slowed and the risk to public health is increased.
Among those who have not complied with the COVID-19 measures, some have resigned out of conviction or obligation, others have decided to stay on because, sometimes with the support of their government. In the end, these decisions vary from one State or situation to another.
Double standards in the United Kingdom?
Towards the end of March, Dominic Cummings, senior adviser to the British Prime Minister, drove 400 kilometers to his parents' home with his wife and their 4-year-old son, despite the imposition of a travel ban by the health authorities. Mr. Cummings said in a press conference that the trip was to entrust his child to his parents in case he and his wife became ill. Both suspected they had contracted COVID-19. Unlike Mr. Cummings, he was not dismissed. On the contrary, he received Government’s support, specifically by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, himself. A study was conducted to find out the "Cummings effect" on public confidence in the government's handling of the pandemic. Data from the study published in the scientific journal The Lancet revealed that there was a "net decrease in confidence from May 22", the date of the announcement of the events. "This drop in confidence continued in the days that followed".
Unlike Mr. Cummings, in May 2020, Neil Ferguson resigned from his role as government advisor, after admitting that he had broken the rules by letting his lover come to his house. He is the scientist whose research led to the introduction of containment measures in the country.
More recently, Margaret Ferrier, an MP from the Scottish National Party (SNP) apologized for travelling to London by train while awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test - and for making the return trip after testing positive. She has since been suspended by her party, but has not resigned from her position as MP. An investigation is currently underway.
It should be noted that in May, Ferrier had criticized Dominic Cummings for breaking the containment rules and had called for his resignation.
New Zealand's health minister fails to set an example
In a statement, New Zealand Health Minister Dr. David Clark confessed to driving 20 km to take his family to the beach during the first week of national confinement. He also said he took a walk 2 km from his family's home, jogged, and took a bike ride. He had originally tendered his resignation in April, but the Prime Minister chose to demote him. Finally, in July, Dr. Clark submitted once again his resignation as Minister of Health, and it was accepted. He remains a member of the New Zealand Parliament.
The case of Ghana
The consequences of not complying with the health rules that have been put in place are not just political. Setting an example of what not to do can lead people to ignore essential measures, and indirectly cause preventable deaths. But what would happen if political figures spread the disease and directly cause death to people by being around them?
The Ghanaian public preferred not to wait for the answer to this question. Indeed, Ghana's Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Carlos Kingsley Ahenkorah tested positive for COVID-19 and isolated himself. Despite this, he confirmed on a popular local radio station that he had violated the health measures put in place to fight COVID-19 by going to the registry office in his constituency with his driver when he had just been diagnosed. It was only after public pressure that Mr. Akenkorah handed in his resignation to the president.
Consequences in the United States
In the United States, a high-income country, the situation is more complex. There is no national coordination of health measures; guidelines issued by national health authorities are questioned by their own government. Worse yet, the White House sets the tone for the adoption and enforcement of health regulations. In late August 2020, for example, the Republican National Convention, a virtual event, welcomed more than 1,500 in-person supporters to the lawn at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where very few people wore masks and there was no physical distancing. As of October 8, the United States, despite its considerable resources, has the highest number of cases and deaths of COVID-19 in the world, surpassing countries with larger populations, such as China and India, according to Johns Hopkins.
Also, in the United States, on September 26, 2020, more than 200 people attended an event at the White House Rose Garden where President Donald Trump announced the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. The ceremony, which attracted high-ranking dignitaries and religious leaders, has since been dubbed a potential "super-spreader" after more than thirty people, including President Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump, tested positive for COVID-19. Two weeks later, Melania Trump announced that Barron Trump, their son, had also tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, all three have tested negative for the virus.
At the Pentagon, headquarters of the Department of Defense, the Chief of Staff and other senior U.S. officers are observing a quarantine period (at the time of writing) after the number two Coast Guard officer, Admiral Charles Ray, tested positive for COVID-19. However, the Pentagon has emphasized that military personnel who are in quarantine are still able to carry out their duties remotely.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the United Kingdom and the United States, where many political leaders have broken health rules, ranked last in a poll question conducted in August 2020 in 14 high-income countries that asked people whether their own countries had handled the pandemic well. In October 2020, the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial condemning the Trump administration for its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The scientific journal states that "in response to the greatest public health crisis of our time, current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent" and calls on the American public to "not encourage them and cause the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to retain their positions" during the next elections in November 2020.
PHOTO: By European Parliament from EU - Hearings: Phil Hogan (Ireland) - Trade, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82755457
Collins, N. L., & Feeney, B. C. (2000). A safe haven: an attachment theory perspective on support seeking and caregiving in intimate relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78 (6), 1053-1073. Disponible en ligne à l’adresse: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12447762_A_Safe_Haven_An_Attachment_Theory_Perspective_on_Support_Seeking_and_Caregiving_in_Intimate_Relationships
Citizens information – Government of Ireland
- Phil Hogan’s Resignation Letter
- Phil Hogan’s Letter to the President of the European Commission https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2019-2024/hogan/announcements/memorandum-president-von-der-leyenstatement-commissioner-phil-hogan-recent-visit-ireland_en
Twitter - #GolfGate
World Health organization
Twitter - Jerry Buttimer
Citi 97.3 FM (via SoundCloud)
Presidency of Ghana
President of Ghana - Nana Akufo-Addo (Facebook)
World Health Organization
Twitter - Justin Trudeau
Government of New Zealand
Science Media Centre
Twitter - Donald Trump
Twitter – Margaret Ferrier
Twitter – Ian Blackford
New England Journal of Medecine
EU Trade Commissioner resigned after being accused of violating COVID-19 health rules in Ireland
October 16, 2020
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