The Covid-19 Player of the Match Awards

I had hoped that by the time of writing this article, we would be nearing the end of the Covid-19 episode and that my chosen title would have fitted the ascent out of the doldrums of viral recession.

by Sir John Royden

Head of Research

Sadly, we are not quite there yet, so it is better to think of this as nominations for the Player of the Match Awards.

Giuseppe Conte of Italy, a political independent, was virtually unknown before becoming prime minister. He has made steadfast strides forward in terms of gaining the trust of Italians. I like him for emerging as a real alternative to populism, which may have something to do with the recent softening of Italian ten-year yields.

Angela Merkel might get some domestic German award for saving her party from an electoral defeat that looked likely. But will she finally underwrite saving Euroland by pivoting on joint debt issuance and fiscal spending? The jury is still out on that one. Her nomination must be tarnished by her constitutional court which launched a legal missile into the heart of the EU by ruling against the ECB’s QE with its concept of disproportionate behaviour.  

I was also unimpressed by Merkel’s drawing up the German state borders. The Schengen area did not work so well as a concept when Europe, led by Merkel, suddenly defaulted to independent and isolationist tendencies around closed borders.

Boris Johnson’s tussle with the virus and near-death experience has probably seen him rise in popularity with the NHS staff, as he now voices greater concern for their welfare than do the rest of his cabinet. I must also commend Boris for the exemplary and fast support measures, which he put in place to contain the economic impact, once he had worked out whether to run with herd immunity or containment.

Pedro Sanchez’s government mishandled the pandemic but he was one of the first to respond with massive stimulus firepower.

Pedro Sanchez of Spain did not do so well in the early days. His government mishandled the pandemic but he was one of the first to respond with massive stimulus firepower. For that, he needs to be commended.  

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lovgren and Sweden's state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, deserve mention for taking a scientific and rational approach that balances lives and livelihoods, and sticking to their guns despite criticism, unlike the UK who vacillated from the initial herd immunity theory to one of containment.  Sweden’s death rate per million is high; but it is much closer to getting herd immunity in the long run than those that opted for lockdowns. Also Sweden has probably gained market share globally by staying open for business.

Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan was better prepared for the pandemic than many.

Having covered Europe, when I look East to Asia I find Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan. She was better prepared for the pandemic than many and delivered a well-executed response.  She warned the WHO of human transmission weeks before the WHO warned the rest of the world, and this was despite having been excluded from the WHO due to China’s lobbying. Her astute planning meant that she was later able to send lots of protective gear and aid to other states whilst under pressure from Chinese pressure tactics, which included aircraft carrier military drills around her island. She has lots of political capital to execute state policies, but unfortunately is sandwiched in the midst of a US-China conflict that is heating up, as Biden and Trump compete for the nomination of “most-anti-Chinese” politician in the run up to the US elections.

Moon Jae-in of South Korea was also great at preparing South Korea for the pandemic. He delivered a well-executed response, which was verified by his party’s electoral performance in April.  He too managed to send aid to many other countries; his accretion of political capital leaves him with a blank slate from which to chart South Korea’s economic rebalancing and diplomacy with the North. 

Japan’s Shinzo Abe handled the pandemic expertly, but fails to make the cut because of last year’s tax hike which hurt the economy. That was not what was needed just before Covid-19. He also vacillated with his response as he tried desperately to save the Olympics for his premiership. He will probably have stepped down before the postponed games start running in 2021. 

I have to mention Trump and China’s Xi. The latter does not even get close to a nomination; at the start of it all China failed to mention the virus to the rest of the world in addition to its own citizens. Their offer of masks and PPE to the rest of the world will be insufficient to tame international anger and does nothing to temper the frustrations of their own people. Reforms to information containment and control will be demanded by the West. The post-steward’s enquiry threat of vilifying Xi in the international press should bring enough pressure to extract reform.  Xi cannot lead his people at home if he is seen as an international pariah.

Trump may yet come through for a late finish if he spearheads reform in China.

Trump’s tweet that the cure can’t be worse than the problem was full of economic sense but totally lacked any human consideration. But he may yet come through for a late finish if he spearheads reform in China and that builds on his impressive execution of fiscal and monetary support for the US economy.

Aside from our much loved Colonel soon-to-be-Sir Thomas Moore, I find myself being drawn back to our own PM for the player of the match award. I hope he can swing the success of my nomination onto the Brexit battlefield and deserve his accolade.

Illustration by Adi Kuznicki

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