Analysis: The life or death decisions of leadership amid the COVID-19 pandemic

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during his daily COVID 19 coronavirus press briefing to announce new measures to limit the spread of the virus, at Downing Street
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during his daily COVID 19 coronavirus press briefing to announce new measures to limit the spread of the virus, at Downing Street Copyright Ian Vogler / Pool via AP
By Darren McCaffrey, Euronews Political Editor
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Euronews' political editor Darren McCaffrey on the life or death decisions European leaders are having to make amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


Last night, the British Prime Minister was moved into intensive care in a central London hospital. His health had deteriorated with a severe and worsening case of COVID-19.

Boris Johnson had spent the first 10 days of his illness in self-isolation, but he continued to work from Downing Street, he continued to lead his country’s fight against the virus.

Even yesterday, having been transferred to hospital suddenly on Sunday evening, he was said to be in good spirits, while he carried on working and communicating with officials.

But now he has temporarily handed over the country's fight to the foreign minister.

The UK is praying for Boris Johnson today. Politics aside, he is also a son, a brother, a father and a father-to-be, with his fiancée due to give birth in three months' time.

And this gives us all pause for thought, particularly today. It’s World Health Day - a day the World Health Organization has designated in celebration of some of those who’ll be helping to care for the prime minister, but also a day “to remind world leaders of the critical role they play in keeping the world healthy”.

Yes, politicians have chosen - and often even fought and schemed - to hold the positions they hold.

But that shouldn’t detract from the often difficult, finely-balanced decisions they are having to make: decisions that are, at the moment, frankly a matter of life and death.

All will be surrounded by teams of mostly brilliant people, their country's top experts, but ultimately the buck stops somewhere, ultimately they have to make the final decision.

For people like Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson, Giuseppe Conte, Pedro Sánchez and many others - they are making individual decisions that then impact tens of millions of their fellow citizens.

That burden weighs heavily - you can see it etched on their faces, in the work that Boris Johnson clearly felt he needed to continue, even while in a hospital bed.

And while some, like Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, have suggested the coronavirus is trivial, nothing but a "little flu" that has to be faced “realistically,” others - including, albeit belatedly, Donald Trump - seem to have grasped the judgement calls they are being confronted with.

Even with all the best advice, politicians will make mistakes. They are human, as are we all, but they will grapple with big choices most of us would never want to deal with.

Remember, almost all of them want to make the right decision, the decision to keep us all safe.

Get well soon, Boris.

Darren McCaffrey is Euronews' political editor.

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