Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2020: House of God

The covid-19 yearbook: world leaders edition

BMJ 2020; 371 doi: (Published 16 December 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m4728
  1. Mun-Keat Looi, international features editor
  1. The BMJ
  1. mlooi{at}

In times of crisis, great leaders step up. So how did the class of 2020 fare?

Most likely to misinform

Donald Trump, president of the United States

What to say about the man who first claimed covid-19 would “disappear,” then blamed China, then withdrew from the World Health Organization, then told citizens to inject bleach, repeatedly tried to discredit his own infectious diseases lead, and caught the virus himself only to continue to flaunt his refusal to adopt prevention measures? Trump has made the pandemic a partisan, political issue in the US, hampering public health efforts. Soon to be former president of the United States, to the relief of many.

Most likely to claim to be “world beating”

Boris Johnson, UK prime minister

The decision to lock down later than the rest of Europe left the UK with one of the highest death rates in the world. In November it became the first country in Europe to pass 50 000 deaths, although the NHS has coped admirably, and initial problems with PPE seem to have been ironed out. However, confusion over constantly changing rules, a struggling “world beating” test-and-trace system, and allegations of cronyism in key appointments and the awarding of contracts to private companies for pandemic services—not to mention overlooking the incident of Dominic Cummings’s trip to Barnard Castle—have severely eroded public trust despite Johnson earning early sympathy after a serious bout of covid-19.

Most likely to approve a vaccine

Vladimir Putin, president of Russia

Long carrying one of the biggest covid-19 caseloads, Russia’s infections have soared throughout 2020, yet deaths per capita are relatively low, despite reports of a healthcare system struggling with ageing equipment and hospitals almost constantly near capacity. Putin put restrictions in relatively swiftly but refused to lockdown and is pinning hopes on his country’s own vaccine development. He has spared no opportunity to laud Russia’s progress and flabbergasted the world by approving one vaccine candidate before phase III trials had reported any results. He claimed it was safe because his …

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