Moon, Trump both need to worry about the Covid-19 'Black Swan'

March 05, 2020 16:36
A file picture shows Donald Trump meeting with South Korea's Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly event in New York on Sept. 23, 2019. The two leaders were both caught flat-footed by the recent Covid-19 outbreak. Photo: Reuters

Apart from China, which was the epicenter of the outbreak, South Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy have also been badly hit by the novel coronavirus, with the infection cases and death tolls climbing.

And halfway across the world, authorities in the United States have reported 11 coronavirus deaths, as of Thursday morning Hong Kong time, within a matter of days.

As the crisis escalates, with more than 50 countries around the world now having reported Covid-19 cases, it is difficult for anyone to be optimistic about the situation.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), has said that there is still a chance to contain the spread of the virus, but doubts persist among the public. 

Let's now take a look at South Korea and the potential fallout of the crisis on the political leadership there.

The country has recorded over 5,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 50 percent of them linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the city of Daegu.

The epidemic has become so severe that President Moon Jae-in had no choice but to declare a “war” on Covid-19 and divert 30 trillion won (roughly HK$195.8 billion) to help alleviate the grave situation brought on by the outbreak. Efforts will be directed at supporting small businesses and low-income citizens, and stimulating domestic demand and consumption to shore up the economy.

As the Covid-19 epidemic shows no signs of abating, Moon is facing enormous political pressure for perceived poor handling of the health crisis, and his approval rating has fallen significantly.

Worse still, some 1.4 million South Koreans have signed a petition demanding the president's impeachment.

Moon isn’t alone in having to deal with the coronavirus fallout and its political repercussions. His US counterpart, Donald Trump, too, was caught completely flat-footed by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Seeking four more years in office from the upcoming November presidential election and having dismissed the potential threat from his Democratic rivals, Trump would probably have never imagined a “black swan” coronavirus coming into play. 

If the epidemic spins out of control on American soil, the ensuing public health crisis could well derail the Republican president's chance at a second term.

Political historian Allan Lichtman, who has correctly predicted all US presidential election outcomes since 1984, said recently that a full-blown outbreak of Covid-19 in the United States could prove the last straw that breaks Trump’s re-election prospects.

We will be able to find out soon whether Lichtman is getting it right again this time.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 4

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal