While many world leaders have supported the use of face masks and have chosen to wear them during public appearances — despite, in some cases, earlier reluctance of their own — Trump has delivered mixed, sometimes contradictory guidance, and has often appeared without a mask, donning one in public for the first time in July.
When Trump returned to the White House Monday night, after three days as a coronavirus patient at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he peeled off his mask to salute Marine One and walked into the building maskless, a move that baffled doctors and raised concerns for the safety of White House employees.
The virus would be “under control” within weeks if everyone in the country wore face coverings, Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in July. But Trump has rarely hewed to that message. During the presidential debate last week, he said “masks are okay,” but suggested that Democratic nominee Joe Biden was wearing them too often.
Trump’s approach, which often contradicts the findings of researchers and advice of experts, stands in contrast to those of leaders who have been more successful at curbing the spread of the coronavirus in their countries.
Here is how other world leaders have handled face masks.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in
Five days after Trump’s Feb. 27 assurance that the coronavirus would “disappear … like a miracle,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in donned a face mask for an apologetic address to his cabinet and the nation.
“I feel very sorry for causing inconveniences to the public by failing to supply masks sufficiently and quickly,” Moon said, the Korea Herald reported.
He declared a “war” against the coronavirus, putting all government agencies on alert.
His quick recalibration paid off in the next month’s elections, in which the governing party secured a decisive victory. Moon had cast his ballot wearing a face mask, which he continued to wear.
South Korea has seen a small fraction of the coronavirus cases and virus-related deaths recorded in the United States.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte
Italy’s prime minister was among the first world leaders this year to wear a face mask in public on a regular basis, after the country, Europe initial epicenter, went into lockdown in March.
Conte’s government enforced a mask mandate with hefty fines and faced relatively little pushback.
In surveys, his popularity rose. By early May, 59 percent of respondents to a poll by the Ixè Institute said that they trusted Conte.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, may present an even more careful image than Conte’s, although she was later to adopt public mask usage.
Last Friday, footage showed her backing away from a mask-clad Conte, after he appeared to stand too close for comfort at a summit.
“Since German reunification — no, in fact, since the Second World War, there has been no challenge that has required more solidarity from us,” Merkel said of the coronavirus in an address in March, setting the tone for her response.
By April, she and other officials urged Germans to wear masks, especially in crowded indoor spaces or on public transportation, where masks have since been mandated.
But for months, Merkel herself was rarely seen wearing one. In June, in response to a question from a reporter, she said she wore them when social distancing was impossible, as suggested by guidelines.
Public sightings of Merkel wearing a mask have increased, amid reports that she has grown worried about the possibility of a surge in new cases as winter approaches.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
When a new cluster of coronavirus cases emerged in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, in August, after the country had gone more than 100 days without recording a single case of local transmission, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acted swiftly, making masks mandatory on public transportation.
She posted a video of herself making a mask. “I’m going to pull out my glitter gun later,” she said.
On Instagram, she applauded New Zealanders for “trying to smile with their eyes.”
But after she was seen taking maskless selfies with supporters, Ardern faced criticism, in the run-up to an Oct. 17 election
“I wear my mask in Auckland. And I work hard to try and keep my social distance,” she said in response. “In that particular photo I did make a mistake, I should have stepped further forward."
Her apology appeared to capture a common sentiment.
“We don’t have masks ingrained in our culture. And I think people have not got used to them at any point,” New Zealand epidemiologist Michael Baker told the BBC.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Compared with elsewhere in Europe, Britain was late to embrace a form of face mask mandate. Face covering were made mandatory on public transportation in England in June.
Reporters described compliance with the new rules as “patchy.”
Perhaps, some analysts argued, enthusiasm for the measure would have been stronger if members of the government had stuck to their own parameters. Days before the mask mandate was announced, Johnson’s top adviser, Dominic Cummings, was accused of flouting stay-at-home measures.
He refused to resign, and Johnson stood by him, in the face of public outrage in some corners.
Throughout much of the summer, face masks remained a somewhat rare sight among top U.K. officials.
Johnson — who tested positive for the virus in March and said he only narrowly survived — was first seen wearing a mask in public in July, according to the Guardian, the same day he announced that they could become mandatory inside English shops because they have a “real value in confined spaces.” His tone in communicating the seriousness of the pandemic did shift after he contracted the illness.
In the following months, as cases remained relatively low in the country, Johnson and other top U.K. officials largely fell back into their maskless ways.
But as the number of new cases surged in recent weeks, Johnson appeared to have reconsidered. When he left 10 Downing Street last week to face questions from Parliament, he had a mask on.