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Analysis ranks the countries that handled COVID-19 best

But the Lowy study reveals that on average, authoritarian countries had no prolonged advantage in suppressing the virus and democracies found “marginally more success than other forms of government in their handling of the pandemic”.

While democracies performed worse at the beginning of the pandemic and there were some notable exceptions including the United States and Britain, they pulled ahead of authoritarian and hybrid states as the outbreak worsened, which suggests democracies were better at learning from their mistakes in acting too slowly, according to Hervé Lemahieu, one of the authors of the study.

Democracies have performed slightly better over the course of the pandemic.

Democracies have performed slightly better over the course of the pandemic.Credit:Lowy Institute

Many “hybrid” regimes, such as Ukraine and Bolivia, were the least prepared to handle the virus.

Overall, levels of economic development and differences in political systems between countries had less of an impact on outcomes than other indicators. Smaller populations, cohesive societies and capable institutions were much bigger factors.

Countries with populations of fewer than 10 million people consistently outperformed large nations throughout 2020, although this lead narrowed slightly towards the end of the 2020.

The study suggests American political scientist Francis Fukuyama was right last year when he said that regime type was not the determining factor in how effectively states responded to the crisis, “but whether citizens trust their leaders, and whether those leaders preside over a competent and effective state”.

Mr Lemahieu said the research disproved the claim authoritarian regimes had an advantage in handling the global pandemic.

“We’ve had this sweeping narrative take hold about the inherent superiority of societies and different political systems, and for the most part we’re saying that is bollocks,” he said.

Mr Lemahieu said smaller countries were able to “ring fence” their populations, while their larger counterparts had issues in being able to close external and internal borders.

“Also, countries with smaller populations may well have stronger social contracts between governments and citizenry and greater levels of trust in governments,” he said.

Although Australia has a population significantly larger than 10 million, Mr Lemahieu said it benefited from being an island nation while the “devolution” of responsibilities to the states effectively turned it into “seven or eight countries”.

“We have the geography and demographic distribution to allow for that devolution of responsibilities at the state level,” he said.

“States have quarantined from each other and erected borders which are almost as closed as international borders. Other countries can’t really pull that off.”

The study measured a number of key indicators including confirmed cases, deaths, cases per million people, deaths per million people and cases a proportion of tests. China was not included because all of its testing rates are not publicly available.

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