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Editorial: Leaders must choose their words carefully amid global health crisis

  • April 19, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 12:41 p.m.
  • English Press

The battle against the new coronavirus will inevitably be prolonged. Political leaders around the world are continuing their search for appropriate measures to gain the understanding and cooperation of their people.


The heads of central and local governments are responsible for protecting people’s lives and safety. Needless to say, measures to stop the spread of infection are most important.


Many national and local governments have implemented strict measures to restrict economic and social activities. To enhance the effectiveness of these measures in a democratic country, it is essential to make people aware of the necessity of the measures and encourage them to refrain from going out and to work from home.


The success of stronger measures, such as mandatory lockdowns, is all the more dependent on whether leaders can deliver correct information based on scientific knowledge and persuade people.


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo explains detailed data on the infection situation and the number of hospital beds needed at press conferences being held every day. He candidly reveals grave prospects, such as a plan to lift the restrictions on going out in stages over 1½ years.


The United States has the highest number of infected people in the world, with deaths concentrated in New York State. Still, polls in the state show strong support for the governor.


It is too early to assess whether the state’s response was appropriate, but the fact that Cuomo continues to reveal even unfavorable information in a humane manner may have led to a certain level of trust.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel is sincerely seeking the understanding of her nation, without flashiness.


She spoke in March on a policy measure to partly close the borders, saying these restrictions were only justifiable when absolutely necessary. She emphasized that it was an exceptional response because she grew up in the former East Germany, where travel to the West was restricted.


Merkel has already announced that she will retire from politics after she steps down as chancellor. It may be to her advantage that she can concentrate on dealing with the crisis without thought for political maneuvering.


Leaders in crisis must also send encouraging messages to people who are exposed to anxiety and tension, to prevent turmoil in society.


In February when the spread of the virus began, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said to the nation, “Fear can do more harm than the virus itself.”


He gave an early warning about the spread of false rumors on the internet and the hoarding of food and other goods, inspiring the people.


U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are also making every effort to publicize measures to prevent the spread of infection and economic measures. How are these efforts viewed by the people?


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 19, 2020.

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