'Rational' leaders crucial to fight pandemic, says economist Jeffrey Sachs

With the coronavirus pandemic deepening inequality worldwide, what countries need are "serious and rational" leaders, said world-renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs.

He said these leaders must recognize the aggravating factors, if not the root causes, of the pandemic: climate change, the environmental crisis, and geopolitical changes.

“It (the pandemic) is also related to a common fact which is our governments…. In my case, US President [Donald] Trump is ignorant and in denial and so we’ve had these crises building. But this stupid man that we have as President of the United States says today that it’s gonna get colder, just like he said a few months ago that the virus would go away,” Sachs said in a forum of the Management Association of the Philippines on Tuesday, September 15.

“If we had serious, rational, consequent governance in our countries, we would be making steady transformation in the right direction. But instead, in my country, we have a president who is in complete denial.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration have come under fire for their response to the pandemic, as coronavirus cases continue to spike and millions of Filipinos go jobless. (READ: Pandemic unravels Duterte's 2016 promise of decisive leadership)

The Philippines, said Sachs, can emulate what its regional peers are doing to reduce COVID-19 cases.

"In almost all of Southeast Asia, other than the Philippines and Indonesia, the virus is essentially under control. Because serious public health efforts were made in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia," he said.

"Serious public health interventions, not comprehensive lockdowns," are needed to beat the virus, added the American economist.

“Contact tracing, physical distancing – it’s possible to contain the pandemic,” he said.

The Philippines' contact tracing czar, Benjamin Magalong, earlier said the ideal ratio is 1:30 or 1:37, which means tracing 30 to 37 close contacts of a COVID-19 case. In the country's virus epicenter of Metro Manila, however, the ratio was just at 1:5 as of August 18.

The Philippine government also recently drew flak over its move to reduce physical distancing in public transport – just one of the contentious policies in the months-long fight against COVID-19. – Rappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.