Democracies are better at managing pandemics than autocracies, according to a new study by Airfinity

Posted on May 15, 2024

Democratic nations tended to fare better during the pandemic with fewer excess deaths than autocratic nations, according to new analysis by Airfinity. Today’s analysis is being presented at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit by Airfinity’s CEO and founder Rasmus Bech Hansen. It shows that for the vast majority of countries, strong democratic government was a key predictor of lower excess deaths during the pandemic. The analysis reveals China and Saudi Arabia were key outliers in their approach and outcomes during the pandemic. China, which followed a ‘zero-COVID policy’ had one of the lowest excess deaths with 72 per 100k people. Saudi Arabia recorded 158 deaths per 100k people, while Russia had the highest with 943 deaths per 100k people. Denmark and Sweden had the lowest excess deaths for democracies which did not have such stringent lockdowns with 92 and 150 excess deaths per 100k people respectively.

Today’s analysis found the most significant contributing factor to reducing excess deaths was the speed at which high performing vaccines were rolled out. Measuring associated factors by Pearson’s correlation coefficient, it shows vaccines had the greatest impact on reducing deaths but the strength of a countries’ democracy had a greater impact than healthcare expenditure.

Western democracies supported the development, production and rollout of highly efficacious vaccines which was key to minimising deaths. However production lagged behind China, which stepped in to play a greater role in supplying vaccines to the rest of the world. Global vaccine production capacity has almost tripled, to a peak of 14 billion doses a year in 2022, but much of this investment is concentrated in Asia with dependencies on China.

Airfinity’s CEO and founder Rasmus Bech Hansen says, “Our analysis shows that Western democracies did better than non-democratic societies, simply put because they developed better vaccines and were able to vaccinate their population relatively fast. The innovation-ecosystem that Western economies have fostered were critical in pandemic response”.

“Today’s assessment is not self congratulatory for Western nations. Not all democracies did well and one reason could be low trust in governments which leads to low voluntary vaccine uptake.

Lock-downs are a failure of pandemic preparedness. Although much has been learned, democracies are still very far from ready for a new pandemic. There is a need for better disease surveillance, detection and higher levels of R&D and stronger institutional setup, potentially through NATO”.

“Democratic nations must be prepared for the next novel outbreak to come, both so they can protect their own populations but also for the rest of the world to turn to. The risk of inaction is that China and other autocratic countries will step in to fill the void.”

Click here to watch Rasmus Bech Hansen's full presentation.

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