NEW DELHI: Democracies such as India and the UK bounced back faster from the impact of the Covid-19 crisis while autocracies and closed societies such as China are still grappling with the pandemic, former UK prime minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday.

Things had been very different at the start of the pandemic, however, and everybody talked about following China’s “brilliant and ruthless” model for dealing with Covid-19 and “locking people up in filing cabinets and broom cupboards”, he said at the 20th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.

People had even said that the steps taken by China “showed democracies aren’t as good as authoritarian states at dealing with the pandemic”, he noted.

“Well, it was our two democracies that came together to protect the human race with billions of doses of vaccines distributed around the world,” Johnson said, referring to the current situation, where India and the UK had opened up while entire Chinese cities were being put under lockdown.

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Johnson highlighted how British scientists at Oxford University developed the Astra Zeneca vaccine and how the Serum Institute of India (SII) produced enormous quantities of the vaccine that were used to protect people in both countries. He then said: “Let me ask you – which of you had Sinovac or Sinopharm or Sputnik or one of the [vaccines] produced by the autocratic countries?”

While pointing out that he continues to be a “fervent admirer” of Chinese culture and civilisation, Johnson referred to a recent phone conversation with his father Stanley Johnson, who was in the Chinese city of Chengdu. After his father completed a 10-day quarantine in a hotel, he found that the whole city was in lockdown.

“Chinese cities today are being put into lockdown and look at us here in the Taj Palace Hotel in Delhi, happily shaking hands and no masks that I can see, no lockdown, living advertisements we are for democracy, free market capitalist pharmaceutical companies and UK-India collaboration… It shows how much good the UK and India can do together,” he said.

Johnson said 25% of the medicines used by Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) were produced in India and the two countries are also working together to tackle key issues in the fields of health, climate change and green technology.

“When the leader of a coercive autocracy embarks on a disastrous policy in which his ego is fatally engaged, there is nothing and no one that can stop him. And that’s why democracy matters,” he said, adding that it was the duty of the media to shine a light on the decisions of leaders and to hold them to account.

By Shadab

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