Global decision-makers setting a bad example before others

In this Sunday, April 5, 2020, Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan, center, ignoring social distancing rules and not wearing mask, speaks with journalists during the arrival of Lebanese passengers who were stuck in Saudi Arabia and other countries because of the coronavirus outbreak, outside Rafik Hariri Airport, in Beirut. From the U.S. president to the British prime minister’s top aide and far beyond, leading officials around the world are refusing to wear masks or breaking confinement rules meant to protect their populations from the coronavirus and slow the pandemic. While some are punished when they’re caught, or publicly repent, others shrug off the violations as if the rules don’t apply to them. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

“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 traveled 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 U.S. 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:

NEW ZEALAND HEALTH MINISTER CALLS HIMSELF AN “IDIOT”

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 kilometers (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 earlier 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.

MEXICO’S LEADER SHAKES HANDS

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López 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” Guzmán. Asked about shaking her hand when the government was urging citizens to practice social distancing, López Obrador said it would have been disrespectful not to.

“It’s very difficult humanly,” he said. “I’m not a robot.”

AMERICA’S PANDEMIC POLITICS

The decision to wear a mask in public is becoming a political statement in the U.S. 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 Monday at a Delaware veterans’ memorial — his first public appearance since mid-March. Trump later retweeted Fox News analyst Brit Hume’s criticism of Biden for wearing a mask in public.

Vice President Mike Pence was criticized for not wearing a mask while on a visit to the Mayo Clinic.

NETANYAHU’S PASSOVER HOLIDAY

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 apologized in a televised address, saying he should have adhered more closely to the regulations.

THE FRENCH EXCEPTION

French President Emmanuel Macron also has been inconsistent with masks, leaving the French public confused. Although Macron has sometimes appeared in a mask for visits at hospitals and schools, it’s a different story in the Elysee presidential palace and for speeches. During a visit to a Paris hospital on May 15, Macron initially wore a mask to chat with doctors but then removed it to talk with union workers.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner also faced criticism this month for huddling with dozens of mask-makers in a factory for a photo where everyone removed their masks.

PUTIN’S DIFFERENT APPROACH

The only time Russian President Vladimir Putin wore protective gear in public was on March 24, when he visited a top coronavirus hospital in Moscow. Before donning a hazmat suit, Putin shook hands with Dr. Denis Protsenko, the head of the hospital. Neither wore masks or gloves, and a week later, Protsenko tested positive for the virus. That raised questions about Putin’s health, but the Kremlin said he was fine.

Putin has since held at least seven face-to-face meetings, according to the Kremlin website. He and others didn’t wear masks during those meetings, and Putin also didn’t cover his face for events marking Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II.

When asked why Putin doesn’t wear a mask during public appearances, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin has a different approach to protecting the president’s health.

“When it comes to public events, we ask medical workers to test all the participants in advance,” Peskov told reporters.

PUERTO RICO OFFICIAL’S INCONSISTENT MESSAGE

Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez was criticized for not always wearing a mask despite holding new conferences ordering people to cover their face outside their homes and inside businesses. A member of the opposition Popular Democratic Party also filed a police complaint last week against members of Vázquez’s New Progressive Party, alleging they violated a curfew by gathering to inaugurate the party’s new headquarters. Police are investigating the incident, which angered many Puerto Ricans.

SCOTTISH MEDICAL OFFICIAL TAKES THE LOW ROAD

Scotland’s chief medical officer, Dr. Catherine Calderwood, broke her own rules and traveled to her second home during lockdown in April. She faced blowback after photos emerged of her and her family visiting Earlsferry in Fife, which is more than an hour’s drive from her main home in Edinburgh. She apologized and resigned.

“I did not follow the advice I’m giving to others,” Calderwood said. “I am truly sorry for that. I’ve seen a lot of the comments from … people calling me a hypocrite.”

JAPAN’S GAMBLING SCANDAL

A top Japanese prosecutor was reprimanded and later resigned this month after defying a stay-at-home recommendation in a gambling scandal.

Hiromu Kurokawa, the country’s No. 2 prosecutor who headed the Tokyo High Prosecutors’ Office, acknowledged that he wasn’t social distancing when he played mahjong for money at a newspaper reporter’s home twice in May. Japan didn’t enforce a stay-at-home recommendation, but his case outraged the public because many were following social distancing measures.

ITALIAN PRESS CONFERENCE CRITICISM

At a March news conference to open a COVID-19 field hospital in Milan’s old convention center, photographers and video journalists were pushed into corners that did not allow proper spacing. Only text reporters were given seating in line with regulations. The Codacons consumer protection group announced it would file a complaint with prosecutors in Milan.

“What should have been a moment of great happiness and pride for Lombardy and Italy was transformed into a surreal event, where in violation of the anti-gathering rules, groups of crowds formed,” Codacons said.

SOUTH AFRICA’S RULE-BREAKING DINNER

In April, Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams was placed on special leave for two months and forced to apologize by President Cyril Ramaphosa after she violated stay-at-home regulations. Ramaphosa directed police to investigate after a photo emerged on social media of Ndabeni-Abrahams and several others having a meal at the home of former deputy minister of higher education Mduduzi Manana.

SPANISH HOSPITAL CEREMONY INVESTIGATED

Madrid’s regional and city officials sparked controversy when they gathered on May 1 for a ceremony shuttering a massive field hospital at a convention center. Eager to appear in the final photo of a facility credited with treating nearly 4,000 mild COVID-19 patients, dozens of officials didn’t follow social distancing rules. Spain’s restrictions banned more than 10 people at events like the one that honored nurses and doctors. The central government opened an investigation, and Madrid regional chief Isabel Díaz Ayuso apologized. She said officials “got carried away by the uniqueness of the moment.”

Former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also defied strict stay-at-home orders, with a television station filming him power walking around in northern Madrid. The Spanish prosecutor’s office is investigating whether Rajoy, who was premier from 2011 to 2018, should be fined.

INDIAN CRICKET GAME CRITICIZED

In India, a top leader of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party drew flak last weekend after playing a game of cricket. Manoj Tiwari, also a member of India’s parliament, said he followed social distancing rules during the game. Videos circulating on social media showed Tiwati without a mask. He was also seen taking selfies with people.

LEADERS WHO FOLLOW THE RULES

Some leaders are setting a good example, including Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. Media jokingly called him the most relaxed politician in the world after he was photographed queuing at a supermarket this month, wearing a mask and following social distancing measures. The photo was widely shared on social media.

Another rule-follower is Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who did not visit his ill 96-year-old mother in a nursing home during the last eight weeks of her life because of coronavirus restrictions. He only came to her bedside during her final hours this month.

“The prime minister has respected all guidelines,” according to a statement read by a spokesman. “The guidelines allow for family to say goodbye to dying family members in the final stage. And as such the prime minister was with her during her last night.”

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Source: Associated Press – THOMAS ADAMSON and SYLVIE CORBET