How well did your country respond to the pandemic?
It’s a subjective question, the answers to which are reflected in new research recording the diversity of opinion around the world.
Spoiler alert: globally, more people approved of their own country’s response than disapproved.
A Pew Research Center survey of more than 14,000 adults across 14 advanced economies in Europe, Asia, North America and Australia, found 73% thought their own country had done a good job of tackling the coronavirus outbreak.
It’s a matter of trust
Respondents’ attitude to their own country’s pandemic response – and its impact on national unity – were linked to feelings of trust in others, the survey found.
Denmark recorded the highest government response approval rating of the countries surveyed (95%), followed closely by Australia.
Support for their government’s actions was also shown in countries like South Korea and Canada, along with European nations like Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Sweden, where more than two-thirds of respondents approved.
But a different picture emerged in the US and UK, where delayed action to combat COVID-19 received less emphatic support. More than half of those polled in each country said they thought the pandemic had been handled poorly.
Divided or united?
Opinions were also split on whether the pandemic had increased the sense of national unity.
Again, Denmark proved to have the most optimistic outlook with 72% of respondents believing the country more united following the virus outbreak. In Canada, Sweden, South Korea and Australia, over half of respondents believed their country was more united.
Despite approving of their country’s response to the pandemic, in European nations like Spain, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, a majority of people thought their country was more divided post-lockdown.
In the US, in an era of divisive politics and with no coordinated response to the pandemic in place, more than three-quarters of respondents believed their country was now more divided than before the pandemic.
The perceived strength of national unity is linked to trust in others, the report found. As a general principle, people who thought others couldn’t be trusted were more likely to see divisions in their own country.
National divisions were most pronounced in France, where almost two-thirds of respondents who think people can’t be trusted also see the country as more divided than before the pandemic.
The role of international cooperation
But did this perceived drop in national cohesion prevent countries seeking international help to combat the spread of the virus? And would cross-border cooperation have resulted in fewer cases?
For the majority of respondents, the answer was yes.
Across the 14 countries surveyed, 59% of respondents believed greater international cooperation would have reduced the number of coronavirus cases in their own country. In Europe, this average increases to 62%, with seven of the nine countries surveyed expressing belief in the benefits of international cooperation, which was strongest in countries like Belgium, the UK and Spain.
Outside of Europe, support for international cooperation was also notable in the US (58%) and South Korea (59%), according to the report.
In Denmark, however, 78% of people thought international cooperation would not have reduced the number of cases. A majority of people in Australia, Germany, Canada and Japan also held little store in international cooperation to tackle the pandemic.
The World Bank, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and other stakeholders, held a virtual roundtable to devise an action plan to facilitate international cooperations and communications to better tackle the pandemic.
International cooperation is a key element of producing an effective vaccine at scale to protect the global population against COVID-19, according to Chatham House. By working together, researchers, business leaders, policy-makers and other stakeholders can more quickly overcome scientific, regulatory and market challenges to developing and distributing a vaccine.