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Mon Mar 23, 2020, 11:02 PM

How politicians are using the coronavirus to seize control

In a world blighted by the coronavirus pandemic, the body count is rising and lockdowns are expanding. Over the weekend, the number of deaths in Spain soared, as the same sort of troubling social media footage of overwhelmed hospitals that accompanied the outbreak’s surge in Italy emerged. In New York City alone, there are now more than 20,000 confirmed cases. On Sunday, Syrian officials confirmed the war-torn nation’s first positive test for the virus.

The ranks of the infected now include a world-famous opera singer, a U.S. senator and a doctor who was directly tending to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Governments everywhere are grappling with ways to stem the spread of the disease, while also bracing for critical shortfalls in medical supplies and hospital beds. Governments have implemented emergency protocols to clamp down on travel and push through relief measures.

In a time of crisis, such action is vital. But some leaders also appear to be exploiting the pandemic for their own political ends.

Numerous Arab monarchies and autocracies, including some under serious political pressure, have invoked public health imperatives to secure themselves a reprieve from mass protests. A widely criticized interim regime in Bolivia postponed planned elections in May as part of a slate of emergency measures, including a 14-day national quarantine. From Hong Kong to India to Russia, authorities cited the risk of spreading coronavirus as grounds to disperse anti-government demonstrations and bar large public gatherings.


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