When the coronavirus started wreaking havoc on humans across the globe, some influential world leaders downplayed its severity and ruled out any possible danger from the contagious virus.
US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro are most prominent in conducting the anti-coronavirus campaign.
Trump, the most influential world leader, even refrained from wearing masks in public places and termed the coronavirus as a 'hoax' and 'China virus'.
But finally he and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for the virus on Friday.
Of the 10 nations hardest hit by the virus in terms of deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, at least three – Brazil at 69, and the U.K. and U.S. at just above 63 -- are led by politicians who first belittled the coronavirus but were then infected by it, Bloomberg reports quoting data from John Hopkins University.
That's about more than schadenfreude, given the role governments have played in setting the policies and tone for the fight against a virus that has caused more than 1 million confirmed fatalities worldwide, hammered jobs and economies, and raised far-reaching questions about the future strength of nations and political systems.
"It deserves repeating — leadership does make an enormous difference, even in a federal state where much of the power sits at the regional level, like in Germany," said Francois Heisbourg, a former official in the French foreign and defense ministries who now advises the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. "If the leadership is wrong-headed, as it was in Brazil or the United States, you get the consequences."
The White House said early Friday that Trump and First Lady Melania Trump had contracted the coronavirus, possibly from close aide Hope Hicks.
Having repeatedly downplayed the severity of the virus, predicting it would disappear by April, and for a long time resisting wearing or promoting the use of masks, the president has polled poorly on his handling of the pandemic. It's become a central issue in his fight for re-election on Nov. 3 and it is unclear how his illness may now affect the vote.
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, a Trump-style populist, fell sick with the virus in July, having previously made a show of touring infected slums without a mask. At one point, he dismissed the threat of contracting it, saying as an athlete it would affect him no more than a mild flu. He did recover.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also initially downplayed the virus. He made a public show of shaking hands with people and argued the U.K., as a "land of liberty," shouldn't lock down in response. Johnson was diagnosed on March 26, became seriously ill and ended up in intensive care.
"They wanted to portray themselves as invulnerable. Instead of having to give difficult policy answers to address a difficult issue, they decided that denial – a very simple answer – was the best way. As populists it's in their DNA," said Heisbourg, who once served on the French government's pandemic preparation committee.
There are others in the club whose countries have not suffered as badly. Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus who at one point told citizens the disease was a "psychosis" and that they should drink vodka and takes saunas to avoid it, became ill with Covid-19 shortly before Aug. 9 elections.
The vote was widely seen as stolen, in part because Lukashenko's handling of the virus response so infuriated much of the population that his declared 80% victory margin was not credible. Belarusians may have been spared a worse Covid-19 impact because after 26 years of Lukashenko's rule they didn't trust the state to protect them, and crowd-funded their own countermeasures.
In Iran, the top leadership was also hit hard by the contagion. As in a number of countries with less transparent political systems, though, the accuracy of official data on Covid-19 cases and deaths isn't clear.