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Most Authoritarian States are Beating Coronavirus

Here’s what democracy should learn

North Korea has poor health infrastructure but zero COVID-19 cases. China, the origin of the pandemic has a little more than 500 active cases. How?

Because both of them are authoritarian states.

Authoritarianism is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘the enforcement or advocacy of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom.’ Democracy can be considered the opposite of authoritarianism. And this divide is also a vital factor in the outcome of the pandemic.

Autocracy and democracy cannot be exactly measured, but for the purpose of the article, I will be using The Economist’s Democracy Index 2019. For the number of coronavirus cases in countries, I will be using The World Health Organization’s COVID-19 dashboard and Worldometer’s COVID data as of 31st July 2020. Despite using competent sources, I request you, the reader, to display caution especially with the number of cases in authoritarian states as information there is tightly controlled and the cases could also be underreported.

At the onset of this pandemic, many nations closed their borders and suspended or limited free movement. But that is easier said than done. Formulating rules and regulations is fine but implementing them is the bigger problem. In North Korea, where civil liberties are almost non-existent, better health infrastructure was not needed because there is little to no international travel and there is technically complete obedience to the Supreme Leader. In China, where people’s faces are shamed on billboards for breaking mundane traffic rules, strict measures were implemented albeit a little later. In democracies, people coming from abroad ignored quarantine notices — some even escaping from hospitals. The political problem of COVID-19 is that can free will be curbed for the advancement of society? In situations like war, by going outside you are just endangering your life. But, in an epidemic, by going outside, you are not only endangering your life but others lives as well. Authoritarianism has a short, simple answer for that — do not care about personal civil liberties, but liberty as a whole. Bipartisan politics and groupthink are also obstacles for democracies.

Along the same lines as China and North Korea, Turkmenistan also has zero cases and certain African countries like Burundi and Equatorial Guinea (Though they are facing outbreaks of other diseases, they are curable but there is poor health infrastructure) have less than a thousand cases because of the same reasons. Of course, neither does every authoritarian regime have very few cases nor does every democracy have a full-blown outbreak. Some autocracies like Belarus and Iran, have curbed their outbreaks to 5,000 to 20,000 active cases. They initially started with many cases because of late action, but now that has significantly decreased. The biggest anomaly would be Russia. It declares itself to be a democratic republic, but it is considered as an authoritarian regime in the eyes of the World Democracy Index. With 187,608 active cases, it ranks number 4, and it is probably because of claims that the situation is under control in the beginning.

What should democracies conclude from this? Take the example of South Korea. It flattened the curve much earlier than most other countries. It built large contact-tracing databases early on. It conducted mass tests. The number of active cases? Just 821, compared to the 2,194,735 of the United States. Most importantly, it sacrificed a little bit of personal privacy for the overall benefit of community health. Learning from the experience of China and Iran, it is never too late to stop the virus. North Korea has always been a subject of jokes and criticism, but one should appreciate how it dealt with the pandemic. Democracies and most importantly the people governed by them, need to be flexible and broad-minded to achieve their goals, otherwise, nothing is possible.

At the onset of the 21st century, many believed it to be the dawn of democracy, a bright future for humanity. A single virus has tested that notion The democratic world was already crumbling before it is arrival — but now all the cracks have been revealed. And we need to try our best to fill them in the coming decades.




Sunset Warrior; Harbinger of Doom. 9th grade student who calls India her home. I write and write about Politics, Economics, History, Literature, and Cinema :)

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Sunset Warrior; Harbinger of Doom. 9th grade student who calls India her home. I write and write about Politics, Economics, History, Literature, and Cinema :)

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