Downing Street Uk (La Presse)

How are Governments Functioning During Covid-19?

Covid-19 strikes without regard to a person’s gender, ethnicity, or status in life. The only discernible difference among infected people is the higher mortality rate that comes with their increased age. No one has been spared from possibly contracting it, even many world leaders and government officials who are trusted to contain the pandemic have become ill.

World Leaders Test Positive for COVID-19

“I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were actually a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you’ll be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. That was on March 3. Three weeks later, he tweeted a video in which he revealed a positive diagnosis for the virus. Johnson’s hand shaking days over: instead, he has been self-isolating.

Before Johnson’s revelation, British heir Prince Charles tested positive for Covid-19, immediately calling into question the status of Queen Elizabeth II. While her son and the prime minister have confirmed their cases, the queen reportedly remains in good health.

“The queen last saw the PM on the 11th March and is following all the appropriate advice with regards to her welfare,” spokesman said. She also has not seen Charles since March 12, according to Reuters and is in lockdown at Windsor Castle while Charles and his wife are quarantined in Scotland.

UK Health Minister Nadine Dorries was also confirmed to have the virus. 

In France, the Minister of Culture, Franck Riester, and Brune Poirson, Secretary of State to the minister of ecological and inclusive transition, have both tested positive in addition to some members of the National Assembly.

Friedrich Merz in Germany, a presumptive frontrunner to lead the Christian Democratic Union Party, has the virus and reported mild to moderate symptoms. Italy, one of the hardest-hit nations, lost Giorgio Valoti, Mayor of Cene due to Covid-19. At the national level, Nicola Zingaretti, leader of the Italian Democratic Party, has also tested positive.

Torbjorn Roe Isaksen, Norway’s minister of labor and social inclusion, and Prince Albert, ruler of Monaco, both tested positive. Polish environment minister, Michael Wos, also tested positive. 

In Spain, Begoña Gómez, wife of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez confirmed her positive test, after which she and her husband isolated themselves in Madrid. Pere Aragones, the deputy head of the Catalan government, and Irene Montero, Spain’s equality minister all tested positive.

Elsewhere in the world, Ukrainian member of parliament Serhiy Shakov revealed a positive test as did Jeremy Issacharoff, Israeli ambassador to Germany. In Canada, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, tested positive and the couple are undergoing a two-week quarantine with Sophie in complete isolation.

Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton was hospitalized, and senators Susan McDonald and Andrew Bragg confirmed their positive tests.

Fabio Wajngarten, press secretary for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, tested positive as did the nation’s national security advisor, Augusto Heleno, and the head of Brazil’s Senate Davi Alcolumbre.

Iran’s government endured the most cases among politicians with at least 24 parliamentary members contracting the disease and two of them dying.

In America, the virus made its way to the inner circle of Capitol Hill after Sen. Rand Paul, R–Ky., tested postive as did Reps. Mario Dias-Balart, R–Fla., and Ben McAdams, D–Ut.

Officials At Risk of Infecting One Another

The list of infected world leaders, politicians, and diplomats will undoubtedly grow as the the world struggles to contain COVID-19. Considering the importance of having leadership in the time of crisis, it’s worth questioning how governments might change their routines to limit the spread amongst themselves while still operating on a day-to-day basis.

Consider the butterfly effect of one leader meeting with several heads of state at a conference. Dutton had just returned from a meeting with US President Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, and Attorney General William Barr when he learned of his diagnosis. Although the White House said Trump tested negative, how close is too close for comfort?

In an attempt to limit the spread among top officials, some governments have begun doing what a large percentage of the working world has done: telecommute. A G20 meeting was recently held virtually and Johnson has said he is actively managing the British government from his home. 

In the US, Trump is on lockdown at the White House, but members of Congress are still required to meet. Although Congress can pass bills on unanimous consent, without taking a tally of yes and no votes, if any member objects, the votes must be counted. For that to occur, members must be in physical attendance in Washington, shoulder-to-shoulder next to one another.

Time for Virtual Voting

“We probably cannot keep operating all in one location,” said Sen. Josh Hawley, R–Mo. A group of 70 House Democrats also sent a letter to the Rules Committee chairman to request a rule change. 

Meetings can be held remotely, but decision makers often aren’t doing this even as the virus spreads. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in-person at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office last week. Both houses convened to vote on the stimulus bill, in-person. 

And even though Congress can rewrite its quorum rules to theoretically permit remote attendance and voting, it is unlikely to do so in the near future due to security concerns.

“While these concerns are completely valid, implementing remote voting would raise serious security, logistical, and constitutional challenges,” the Rules Committee said.

Lessons Governments are Learning from Covid-19

In Spain, members of parliament were allowed to vote remotely and similar calls were made in Italy. The European Parliament also navigated around security concerns with a system of its own.

“We will receive MEP vote card by email, we will vote by hand, we will sign our vote, scan it and send it by email and the parliament’s secretariat will count the votes,” said Renew group leader Dacian Ciolos ahead of a special session held March 26.  The temporary voting measure was approved for use until July 31.

Another possible alternative to in-person voting is “parallel postal voting”, an idea pitched by German Pirate Party MEP Patrick Breyer. In such a process, votes would be submitted electrically as well as mailed in the traditional sense, which would create a corresponding physical record.

The Covid-19 outbreak has revealed the critical need to have a backup system for governments to remain functional. Most governments have a line of secession in the event a head of state is incapacitated. These laws fail to account for a disease outbreak that could eliminate a wide swath of government officials. 

Once the pandemic dies down, governments would do well to create virtual operation policies to avoid future catastrophes.