Israel, the US, Britain, Brazil and other nations with “populist” governments mishandled the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and caused unnecessary deaths with relatively lenient policies, according to an academic research paper.
Excess mortality — the number of deaths beyond those that could be expected without the pandemic — was more than twice as high on average in populist-governed countries, Michael Bayerlein, a researcher at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy and one of the authors of the paper, said Thursday.
The main reason for the difference was that “citizen mobility” — measured using Google data on the number of people in places like grocery stores or parks — was higher in populist countries at similar infection rates, the study showed. Excess mortality was 18% in populist-led countries and 8% in non-populist nations.
For the purposes of the study, 11 governments were classified as “populist.” As well as those in the US, Britain and Brazil, the list included Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Mexico, Israel and Turkey.
Those countries were less likely to implement “unpopular policies” to check the spread of the pandemic such as contact restrictions, according to the authors.
They also determined that the communication strategy of populist administrations typically downplayed the severity of the pandemic and discredited scientific findings. Citizens were therefore less inclined to take the virus seriously and restrict their movements on their own initiative.
The US has suffered the most deaths from COVID-19, with almost 880,000, followed by Brazil with nearly 625,000, according to the Bloomberg Virus Tracker. India has recorded more than 490,000 and the U.K. over 150,000.
As well as Bayerlein of the Kiel Institute, the authors included researchers at universities in Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Britain.