Last week, after Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed that she had tested positive for coronavirus, a Los Angeles Times headline declared that the diagnosis was a turning point for the country: Canada had stopped “dithering after coronavirus sickens Trudeau’s wife.” Naming Canada’s sudden turn to action—finally closing schools and promoted social distancing “The Sophie Effect,” the Times suggested that it was a pattern. It took the wife of the head of state getting sick to inspire both officials and the general public to get serious about protecting the population.
Likewise, Spain went into lockdown shortly before Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s wife Begoña Gómez revealed that she had tested positive while he remains unaffected. Aljazeera is keeping a running tally of public officials and those connected to them who have been diagnosed, and right now the list is heavy on ambassadors and ministers, along with the two notable wives of heads of state who have copped to being tested and diagnosed.
But as of right now, no world leaders have admitted to being infected. As the nations begin pointing fingers and blaming one another in a global game of pass the coronavirus buck, it seems likely that at least a little bit corona-lying is happening, and more powerful people have been diagnosed with coronavirus than are letting on. Or maybe not. Here is some speculation as to why those closest to world leaders are getting sick while the leaders themselves are not.
Theory One: The Second Shift Effect
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau announced that she had mild symptoms after returning from a speaking engagement in the UK, while Begoña Gómez revealed her diagnosis amid reports that Spain is the second hardest-hit country in Europe, right after Italy. Other officials who have tested positive work in positions that frequently bring them into contact with diverse groups of people, like Franck Riester, French minister of culture or Nadine Dorries, a minister in the UK’s health department. Likewise, wives of heads of state are typically expected to be the social arm of the administration, meeting, speaking, socializing, and probably touching, more people than their husbands, so it might make sense that they are more likely to come into contact with the virus. And because world leaders and their families have access to much better healthcare than the general population, it’s also likely they were tested before they could get close enough to their husbands to infect them.
Theory Two: Permanent Six-Foot Separation as a Job Hazard
World leaders simply do not see their wives that much and therefore do not have the opportunity to get within six feet of one another often enough to come into contact with partner-spread coronavirus, though unfortunately, first ladies do occasionally (and allegedly) come within infecting distance of international treasure Idris Elba. The ruling class also has access to all manner of luxuries the rest of us do not, such as separate bathrooms and private chefs, which perhaps keep them largely isolated from their partner’s germs.
Theory Three: Bullshit
Some of them are lying their asses off. As aides, vice presidents, ministers, and even spouses fall ill all around them, it seems a bit hard to believe that not a single world leader has tested positive for highly contagious covid-19, assuming they get tested at all. In response to his wife’s announcement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went into a voluntary two-week isolation period but insisted to the press that he showed “absolutely no symptoms” of coronavirus and also that he would not be tested, nor was he a “vector” who had potentially already passed along the contagion.
However, reports about Grégoire Trudeau’s illness mobilized an entire country to take better care of itself, as did Gómez’s. Perhaps the political theory goes that a mildly sick first lady leads a nation by example but a weakened leader inspires a panic.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that despite meeting with Fabio Wajngarten, the recently diagnosed top aide to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, President Donald Trump has tested negative. And though I’ve just spent hundreds of words waxing theoretical on world leaders lying about their corona status, I believe this announcement, as not only is Donald Trump repellent in every way a human could be, including ways unique only to himself, he is also incapable of expressing affection of any sort due to the fact that he has never felt that particular emotion. Furthermore, decades spent covered from neck to hairline in several thick layers of orange spackle have gotten him well accustomed to never touching his face.
It’s entirely possible that the president’s undeniable grottiness, coupled with his prodigious vanity have placed him in a naturally impenetrable bubble of self-quarantine. And the real devil of these disordered times could lie in the rising panic of realizing that one might believe a report from the Trump administration while simultaneously speculating that other global leaders might be lying and hoping Mitt Romney can convince Democrats to provide the nation a quarantine social safety net. Please, can we go outside yet?