Luke O'Neill on COVID-19: 'Female leaders are doing better'

A new study has found countries with female leaders have six-fold fewer deaths from COVID-19. The...
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

15.31 4 Jun 2020

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Luke O'Neill on COVID-19: 'Fem...

Luke O'Neill on COVID-19: 'Female leaders are doing better'

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

15.31 4 Jun 2020

Share this article

A new study has found countries with female leaders have six-fold fewer deaths from COVID-19.

The research from Trinity College Dublin and the University of Pretoria found that in countries with women in positions of leadership, the average number of days with confirmed deaths was 34 versus 48 in countries ruled by men.

Female-led governments were also more effective and rapid at flattening the curve, with peaks in daily deaths roughly six times lower than in countries ruled by men.


Immunologist Professor Luke O'Neill told Pat Kenny: "It's 35 countries, and people might argue it's not enough to get a good statistical sort of correlation here.

"But it's striking that the countries with female leaders are doing better: less deaths, less overall number of cases.

"So therefore the conclusion has to be if a woman's in charge it seems to be as if those countries are doing better with COVID-19".

"There's two things going on here they think... one reason is in the countries with woman leaders, they consult early with the experts - be they medical or scientific - and have a sit down and discuss the whole thing.

"And then secondly, having consulted begin to act quite quickly - and the containment policies, the lockdowns, were happening more quickly in those countries.

"The best example we have, of course, is New Zealand with the famous Jacinda Ardern.

"In New Zealand they'd 102 cases, she consulted rapidly with the experts and then had an immediate lockdown.

"This almost is the opposite to [British Prime Minister] Boris Johnson, at the same time the UK had 700 cases and he waited, Cheltenham went ahead.

"So his response to his number of cases was to delay and maybe prevaricate a bit.

"Whereas [Jacinda's] response was ' this is a big problem, I believe the experts, I believe the scientists, I'm locking down now'.

"And that seems to be the feature of all these countries".

A similarly positive pattern was seen in Denmark, Norway and Finland - all ruled by women - as opposed to Sweden, ruled by a man, where economic considerations trumped health concerns, and ultimately resulted in the highest death toll per capita in Europe.

Prof O'Neill explains: "The countries where women are in charge are inclined to be more equal anyway, they've got better social and environmental considerations - well-being, public health is slightly better in those countries".

"And then the second thing is that...women are more likely to become leaders in countries that are more equal".

"The big one for me, Pat, as well was... the projected GDP decline in the countries led by women is 5.5% - which is a decline obviously - the average is going to be 7% in countries with men in charge."

Luke O'Neill on COVID-19: 'Female leaders are doing better'

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Testing sewage for COVID-19

Another interesting aspect highlighted by Prof O'Neill is the testing of stools to detect COVID-19 in population areas.

Researchers with Yale University and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station suggest that as governments lift lockdowns, regular testing of solid waste could provide early warnings of new waves of infection.

Prof O'Neill said: "They've detected the virus in sewage - that's the first thing.

"Now that's nothing to worry about, they don't think you can catch it off sewage or indeed off stools as they call it - or poo."

"They can find it in sewage and very interestingly they can find it ahead of an outbreak.

"So in other words, let's say you detect some in sewage initially, a week later it begins to peak in that community - this has been shown in Connecticut."

He said this could be used on a wider scale to test population areas who could be asymptomatic.

"It's another aspect of the asymptomatic nature of the disease.

"Obviously the sewage plants are in different places... and in one region in Connecticut, this was done in great detail, they begin to see the virus.

"And there's nobody with symptoms in that community, and then a few days later the people develop symptoms - and that correlates with the sewage.

"So it's as if the virus is coming out early before the symptoms begin".

"The reason why it's useful, Pat, is you can now deploy people into the area to do all the testing and tracing.

"If you've a limited number of people in the contact tracing business you say 'Oh this is the place to go next - start tracing all those people now and see how many are getting infected and then obviously quarantine them'.

"You could have a situation where every sewage plant now will be places where you're testing for the virus.

"This has been done before - it's been used for polio over the years, to indicate where polio is, and it's been done for norovirus - the famous winter vomiting bug".

"I think this could be very important down the line".

Main image: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris in May 2019. Picture by: Lafargue Raphael/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images

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