The grouping of the BRICS countries by Goldman Sachs economist, Jim O’ Neill for their rapid economic development has become an important forum connecting the economies of four continents since 2001. Its member countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, have 23% share in the world GDP and 16% share in the world trade and are said to dominate the world economy by 2025.
Since BRICS is an aspirational geopolitical configuration with wide geographic spread with varying culture and political structure, and visible economic growth story, it is imperative to look at the Covid-19 pandemic management of these countries and the death toll in order to draw some insights.
The data analysed in this study is collected from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Worldometer. In Fig. 1, data of Covid-19 casualties (Absolute) is plotted till 23 July 2021, for a comparative study among BRICS nations. Fig. 2 shows the Covid-19 positivity rate [(positive tests/total tests) x 100%] among BRICS.
BRICS: Casualty Analysis
BRICS account for 42% of world population. They registered nearly 31.5% of total world cases and 26.6% of total deaths as of November 2020 (RFI 2020). Brazil recorded the highest deaths, followed by India and Russia (Fig.1). Surprisingly, China, where the coronavirus originated, recorded the least deaths. However, it is also known that China’s data could well be far suppressed and Moscow has controlled the media. Thus, state control and authoritarianism pushed many things under the carpet to save the country’s image.
Moreover, COVID-19 impact analysis cannot be done solely on the basis of data. Apart from external controls, data gets influenced by other factors too. Firstly, every country has its own method of calculating deaths and Covid-19 cases. This is the argument given by Russia for its dubious data. Many countries have different categorization systems too. Secondly, geographic and demographic conditions influence the impact, as we shall see later in the case of Africa.
Brazil stands as a basket case of Covid-19 casualty. With a population of approximately 200 million, the death toll of 5.04 is abysmally high. While India managed the first wave reasonably well, however the cumulative death toll of nearly 3.9 million is huge. In spite of this, given India’s 13.30 million population, the death ratio could be a consolation. Russia comes second after the USA in positivity rate but for long, its COVID-19 fatality rate remained much lower than the global average. South Africa’s death is limited to 0.59 million with a population base of 59.3 million. While empirically, the case of China seems exemplary, given the cloud of suspicion on China’s data, it may be challenging to analyse China’s case creditably.
Leadership- Key to Survive
Given several of these asymmetry and varying death toll, analysing casualty due to Covid-19 in BRICS countries provides an interesting perspective. India and China are the two most populous countries of the world while Brazil and Russia have large geographical areas but limited population size. Regarding the political structure, while Brazil and India are democracies with free press, China and Russia are authoritarian regimes with controlled media. As each nation represents a unique case, four prominent and interesting lessons emerge from BRICS Covid-19 casualty analysis.
First, the case of Brazil and Russia indicates that population size and pandemics don’t always correlate. While Russia managed with the least death toll (if we believe the data), Brazil turned out to be a basket case of pandemic mismanagement. However, demographically, South Africa shows the opposite trend. For instance, according to Fig. 2, COVID-19 positivity rate in South Africa is around 101.6, 87.3 for Russia, while in India, it is just 28.7 (BBC 2021) , while death rates reveal the opposite scene. South Africa has a much lower population than India and Russia but it has a triangular-shaped population pyramid which signifies a larger population in lower age groups owing-to high birth-rates. As a result, though the country’s infection rates equalled that of the UK, the deaths have remained low.
Second, the role of leadership during a crisis is extremely vital. In the case of Brazil, the President, Jail Bolsonaro dismissed the coronavirus as a “little flu”. President’s refusal to even wear a mask till he himself contracted Covid-19, almost became an instance of mockery in the global media. Unlike the global trend of lockdown, Bolsonaro discouraged the government from imposing a lockdown. As a result, the country was driven to high casualty charts.
Third, neither population size, nor regime or economic profile really matters. Efficient leadership, crisis management roadmap and skill is most needed. China had some of the strictest lockdowns and South Africa, in spite of high incidences of cases, minimised the death toll. India, with a high volume population, still demonstrated leadership. India not only imposed a timely lockdown but also made zones according to the severity of the virus. Apart from mere policy directions, what more is needed is public cooperation to combat the crisis.
Lastly, it is important for any country to build an efficient data collection system. Proper recording and surveillance mechanism calls for infrastructural development too. There is a need for a universal method for data collection, especially when borders are becoming meaningless and nations are becoming interdependent.
The virus has proved to be very dynamic; therefore, what is needed is the efficient use of available resources along with transnational cooperation. The pandemic calls for an effective leader and an informed public.
This article was written by Aastha Rathi and Saumya Avasthi under guidance of Dr. R P Pradhan, CPPR Distinguished Fellow. Views expressed by the authors are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.