India, Brazil and the human cost of sidelining science

Volume 593 Issue 7857, 6 May 2021


Editorial | 04 May 2021
India, Brazil and the human cost of sidelining science
Governments that ignore or delay acting on scientific advice are missing out on a crucial opportunity to control the pandemic.
Last week, Brazil’s total death toll from COVID-19 passed 400,000. In India, the pandemic is taking around 3,500 lives every day and has prompted a global response, with offers of oxygen, ventilators, intensive-care beds and more. Although these two countries are thousands of miles apart, the crises in both are the result of political failings: their leaders have either failed or been slow to act on researchers’ advice. This has contributed to an unconscionable loss of life.

Brazil’s biggest failing is that its president, Jair Bolsonaro, has consistently mischaracterized COVID-19 as a “little flu” and has refused to follow scientific advice in setting policy, such as enforcing mask-wearing and limiting contact between people.

India’s leaders have not acted as decisively as was needed. They have, for example, allowed — and, in some cases, encouraged — large gatherings. Such a situation isn’t new. As we saw during the administration of former US president Donald Trump, ignoring evidence of the need to maintain physical distancing to combat COVID-19 has catastrophic consequences. The United States has recorded more than 570,000 deaths from the disease — still the world’s largest COVID-19 death toll in absolute terms.

As Nature reports in a World View article, India’s leaders became complacent after daily COVID-19 cases peaked at nearly 96,000 in September before slowly declining— to around 12,000 at the beginning of March. During this time, businesses reopened. Large gatherings followed, including protests against controversial new farm laws that brought thousands of farmers to New Delhi’s borders. Election rallies and religious gatherings also continued during March and April.