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Flawed leadership: Hypocrisy gone viral? Officials set bad COVID examples
“Do as I say, but not as I do” was the message many British saw in the behavior of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s key aide, who travelled hundreds of miles with coronavirus symptoms during the country’s lockdown.
While Dominic Cummings has faced calls for his firing but support from his boss over his journey from London to the northern city of Durham in March, few countries seem immune to the perception that politicians and top officials are bending the rules that their own governments wrote during the pandemic.
From US President Donald Trump to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, global decision-makers have frequently set bad examples, whether it’s refusing to wear masks or breaking confinement rules aimed at protecting their citizens from COVID-19.
Some are punished when they’re caught, others publicly repent, while a few just shrug off the violations during a pandemic that has claimed more than 350,000 lives worldwide. Here are some notable examples:
In April, New Zealand’s health minister was stripped of some of his responsibilities after defying the country’s strict lockdown measures. David Clark drove 19 kilometres (12 miles) to the beach to take a walk with his family as the government was asking people to make historic sacrifices by staying at home. “I’ve been an idiot, and I understand why people will be angry with me,” Clark said. He also acknowledged driving to a park near his home to go mountain biking.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said normally she would fire Clark but that the country couldn’t afford massive disruption in its health sector while it was fighting the virus. Instead, she stripped Clark of his role as associate finance minister and demoting him to the bottom of the Cabinet rankings.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said it pained him not to embrace supporters during tours because of health risks, but he made a remarkable exception in March, shaking hands with the elderly mother of imprisoned drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Asked about shaking her hand when the government was urging citizens to practice social distancing, Lopez Obrador said it would have been disrespectful not to. “It’s very difficult humanly,” he said. “I’m not a robot.”
The decision to wear a mask in public is becoming a political statement in the US. It’s been stoked by Trump — who didn’t wear a mask during an appearance at a facility making them — and some other Republicans, who have questioned the value of masks. This month, pandemic politics shadowed Trump’s trip to Michigan as he toured a factory making lifesaving medical devices. He did not publicly wear a face covering despite a warning from the state’s top law enforcement officer that refusing to do so might lead to a ban on his return.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, meanwhile, wore a mask along with his wife, Jill, as they laid a wreath at a Delaware veterans’ memorial.
While the rest of Israel was instructed not to gather with their extended families for traditional Passover Seder in April, Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin hosted their adult children for the festive holiday meal, drawing fierce criticism on social media. Israeli television showed a photo of Avner Netanyahu, the premier’s younger son, attending the Seder at his father’s official residence.
Benjamin Netanyahu later apologised in a televised address, saying he should have adhered more closely to the regulations.