Somewhat predictably, China has blamed their initial problems in responding to Covid-19 to decentralization and poor decisions from regional authorities:

The rare admission, from Director of China's National Health Commission Li Bin, comes after sustained criticism abroad of China's early response. [...]

Mr Li told journalists the pandemic was a significant challenge for China's governance, and that it exposed "the weak links in how we address major epidemic and the public health system." [...]

Li Bin said the commission would fix the problems by centralising its systems and making better use of big data and artificial intelligence, building on many of the leadership's longstanding objectives.

[...] Several provincial and local officials from the ruling Communist Party have been sacked but no senior member of the Party has been punished.

Beijing has not responded to calls to ease censorship and state control of the media.

I suspect this sounds almost like a rhetorical question, but has any country's government said that they should fight this or future pandemics in the opposite way, i.e. by more decentralized decision making?

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    As House of cards main character, Francis Underwood, taught us, politicians should never let a good crisis go to waste... I would blindfolded bet my money that the "fight against the pandemic" will surely involve more centralization, more government control and, sure as hell, more government spending.... Commented May 11, 2020 at 12:03
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    Are you talking about the national level of government or local/regional level governments? Most of the time, government officials call for more power and control for themselves, whatever level they happen to be on.
    – bta
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 23:18
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    Centralization is exactly what's needed for a successful pandemic response. If the world governments had better coordination they would've issued an international travel ban on January 1st and this whole pandemic would've been over by March. Decentralization is plain dumb. Commented May 13, 2020 at 1:00

4 Answers 4


Arguably, the United States of America has. Sort of. It's confusing.

The federal government, or rather the president and some of his cabinet, has largely left the response up to individual states. It's less of a conclusion, and more a result of chaos and denial at the Federal level.

It is difficult to write this up in a neutral tone, to find sources with a neutral tone, or to even determine what the official federal response is. Federal response has been chaotic and contradictory and the conduct of the president has been appalling. I live in the US. This is not an abstract answer.

An example of this confusion is the president's tendency to make sweeping declarations only to rescind them the next day. For example, the president declared "total authority" over the states re-opening plans, and then the next day he "authorized" the states to come up with their own plans. He has neither power.

Another example is confusion about who is in charge. There is an official White House Coronavirus Task Force lead by Vice President Pence and Dr. Brix. Jared Kushner leads a "shadow" task force. They often conflict with each other. Jared Kushner has no experience in disaster managment; he is the president's son-in-law.

The federal government has taken some actions.

  • Jan 31, declared a public health emergency.
  • Feb 2, issued a travel ban on China.
  • March 13, declared a national emergency.
  • March 16, advised against groups of more than 10 people.
  • March 19, advised against international travel.

WHO recommends against blanket travel and trade bans as they "may interrupt needed aid and technical support, may disrupt businesses, and may have negative social and economic effects on the affected countries".

In other areas they have opted to have the states handle disaster response usually handled by the federal government, often with no warning, and while the states and companies are pleading for help.

There is pattern of reluctance to coordinate procurement and distribution of vital supplies, for issuing clear guidelines for state closures and reopening, and for making these policies national. There is also a pattern of using federal aid as a carrot and stick to pursue agendas against certain states and punishing perceived political enemies.

This is based on no evidence, but political ideology. It is in contrast to previous federal disaster responses leaving state and local governments scrambling. And it is in stark contrast to expert advice, both inside and outside the federal government. Dr. Brix, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, Dr. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all contradicted many of the president's decisions, including the need for federal coordination.

While there was some initial rapid response from Congress, they are quickly falling back into partisan deadlock. Senate Majority Leader McConnell has stated the Senate will focus on confirming lifetime judicial appointments, not coronavirus work. The Republican party is in danger of losing control of both the Senate and the presidency at the end of the year.

This has resulted in high profile, public arguments between the president and governors over federal vs state response and responsibility. For example, between President Trump and New York Governor Cuomo. New York is one of the hardest hit states. It has also been a subject of the president's ire prior to the virus.

Some state governors have then allowed the response to further devolve to their cities and counties, either explicitly or through inaction, and often at odds. For example, currently the state of South Dakota has largely downplayed the virus, while Native American tribes within its borders have not. They are currently at odds over their policies.

In response, many states are recognizing that the virus respects no borders. They're at risk of competing against each other for scarce resources and driving up the price. They must coordinate. With the federal government abdicating leadership, they are banding together into compacts to coordinate their plans, particularly about how and when to ease restrictions. For example, the Western States Pact and the Midwestern Governors Regional Pact and the Eastern states Multi-State Council.

The result is a state-by-state, sometimes city-by-city, patchwork of responses. Every state has declared a state of emergency and nearly all have some sort of stay at home order. As of this writing, nationally the number of cases and death toll continues to rise steadily.

Four states never issued a stay-at-home order and, as of this writing, 13 states have rescinded their stay-at-home order. With the exception of extremely rural Montana, all are continuing to see a steady rise in cases and deaths.

See also:

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    I've downvoted the answer because it presumes that fighting the coronavirus in the United States is "left to the states" because the Federal government is confused. While it is true the Federal government is confused it is incorrect to say that this confusion is the cause of the response being left to the states. The response is left to the states, because under the US Constitution, the individual states that possess the police power necessary to quarantine people and enforce lockdowns, and the Federal government does not. It is an explicit, non-accidental feature of how the US works.
    – Joe
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 16:34
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    It would be better to avoid pay-walled sites as sources unless absolutely necessary.
    – JBentley
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 17:13
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    @JBentley I agree. Edits with better links are welcomed.
    – Schwern
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 18:43
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    @Joe The other feature of the US is the federal government has interstate authority necessary for a national crisis. They have the existing authority and structures to coordinate the country and control interstate travel. They can coordinate nationwide production, purchasing, and distribution. They can issue clear guidelines and encourage states to follow. They can take on debt the states cannot. They can move their collective resources around the country, or concentrate them, as needed. The current federal response is more like the Articles of Confederation than the Constitution.
    – Schwern
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 18:54
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    @JBentley Trump has no idea what the 10th Amendment is, and declared he had those powers (that he does not). The federal government is decidedly not leaving the response to the states out of Constitutional concerns, but because the president doesn't care to do anything about it. Commented May 12, 2020 at 15:00

Arguably, Russia did.

Traditional Russian response to any problem in the last 20 years is to do everything on federal level to be able to praise V. V. Putin. All decision making process is centralized.

However, nCoV pandemic with its restrictions of public freedoms and economic activity seems to be too toxic for that, so it's one of very rare cases where decisions, and especially blame, are mostly shifted to regions.

This time, you hear more of Sobyanin's (mayor of Moscow where the virus got most foothold) decisions and actions than those of Putin. Then, each region got to decide which measures they take against the infection, and on what time frame. And they have decided differently, which is something nearly unheard of, in modern Russia.

Then again, nobody has declared the need of more decentralization, but de facto this need manifested itself in the circumstances and had to be fulfulled.

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    Question didn't make sense until I read this answer, that being, has any country used a call for decentralization as a veil to shift blame, and not as I presumed, who's actually doing anything about this? I'd assume the former is everybody and the latter nobody.
    – Mazura
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 21:27
  • Still, with blame comes at least a subset of decision-making.
    – alamar
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 11:37
  • This seems to be largely correct; FT article on that. A relevant quote from Putin “Let me stress that wages will be retained. Regional heads . . . will have to plan out a set of specific preventive measures that are the most rational for their regions.” (Alas it doesn't look like covered much in non-paywalled [English-language] sources.) Commented May 11, 2020 at 18:47
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    Interstingly "Mr Mishustin, however, was himself reluctant to introduce stricter measures earlier, prompting Mr Putin to act through Mr Sobyanin, the former official said. “Most people have wanted strict quarantine for a while already. [But Mr Mishustin] wants the governors to take all the responsibility. Then the situation clearly became lousy and they had to do something. So [Mr Putin] had to interfere in that way,” he added. “He doesn’t want to do it either, but he’ll have to.”" So Putin could claim that he was [somehow] responsible for the measures... if they turn out ok. Commented May 11, 2020 at 18:57
  • "After Mr Sobyanin unilaterally placed the capital under restrictions tougher than those imposed by the national government, Mr Putin endorsed them as “justified and essential”." Commented May 11, 2020 at 19:03

Yes. Scotland.

And Wales. And Northern Ireland.

The UK Government, in London, has decided that the virus reproduction number, R, averaged over the entire UK, has dropped enough to allow relaxation of lockdown.

However, the value of R may vary across different parts of the UK. It could be dangerously high in some places, while the average value is pulled low by the improving situation in London.

The other constituent governments (Scotland, Wales and NI), think R is still too high in their nations and so will continue lockdown. They are experiencing backlash and confusion from this. These problems would be reduced if those countries were further devolved, or ideally, made independent of, Westminster.

  • Good example. Are the governments of those regions requesting/demanding additional powers to deal with this?
    – divibisan
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 14:43
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    @divibisan healthcare is already a devolved matter - the devolved governments already have the power to extend or otherwise alter the lockdown restrictions from those in the rest of the UK.
    – CDJB
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 21:08
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    @CDJB Good point about the average. I've updated the text to reflect this. Thanks! Commented May 13, 2020 at 7:21
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    The feel of the question is more has central government decided more decentralisation is required. Not has any decentralised local authority decided they need more powers to deal with the situation. I think this answer is useful and interesting, but it is topsy-turvy to the question.
    – Jontia
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 8:37
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    The UK is fairly unique in that its constituent parts are considered countries in their own right. The more common use of country in this sort of context would be a sovereign nation which has the ability to give power away in decentralisation. A body receiving power under moves towards decentralisation would not usually be a country in its own right.
    – Jontia
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 11:22

I would say Sweden has done this depending on how you define decentralization. The public health agency in Sweden is relatively autonomous, meaning they make decisions and recommendations and the government accepts those and implements those relatively unquestioning. The position by the national public health agency has been to not shut the country down and leave it open for business. On the other hand they do recognize that there is a serious pandemic going on and recommend people to practice social distancing. There is a high degree of trust in Sweden, so people and businesses have been taking it upon themselves to implement the recommendations on social distancing. Whether it is going well or not is up for debate and probably something that will only be able to be said for certain in the future once good data has been collected and analyzed. They do however claim that the rate of infection has been flattening out which is of course a good sign.

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    Welcome to Politics! Please try to add references to support your answer.
    – JJJ
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 21:23

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