The UK, Spain, Belgium, and Italy were hindered in their capacity to respond to the first pandemic wave by “years of declining government effectiveness”, according to a study.
The study by the London School of Economics (LSE) assessed reasons for the uneven spread of Covid-19 across Europe. It found “weak and deteriorating government effectiveness” was a key factor resulting in some countries being hit harder during the first wave between January and June.
Governments’ ineffectiveness “restricted their capacity to react early” and implement learnings from the successes and failures of other countries in tackling the outbreak.
The report said: “Weaker and weakening government and bureaucratic efficiency may have been at the source of chronic failures in protecting key health and other types of essential workers from infection.
“They may have produced an inability to coordinate public intervention effectively in all types of measures, including in areas such as the procurement of medical and protective equipment for key workers.”
The UK, Spain, Belgium, and Italy had a strong correlation between the highest rates of Covid-19 deaths in the first six months of 2020 – with the UK leading at over 59,000 – and the biggest decline in government effectiveness in the past 20 years, according to the research.
Scandinavian countries, Germany, and the Netherlands, which have shown better effectiveness over time, did not experience “excess deaths” relative to their population.
The study analysed 23 countries across Europe to understand the geographical spread of the coronavirus in the first wave, including factors such as social connectivity, size and density of population, readiness of health systems, age structure, climate and air pollution.
Andrés Rodriguez-Pose, professor of economic geography at LSE and one of the authors of the report, said: “The UK – along with Spain and Belgium – should have had extra time to prepare for the pandemic by heeding and reacting to what was happening in Italy. But years of declining government effectiveness meant that they were overconfident, when the reality was that they had limited capacity to respond.
“More efficient government can help save lives and this is something that needs to be addressed if these countries are going to deal better with deep shocks, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, that they may face in the future. This is something that must be done in the good times, not the bad.”
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.