The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response said that countries that recognised the threat of SARS-CoV-2 early, and were able to react comprehensively, fared much better than those that waited to see how the pandemic would develop
Countries with the poorest results in addressing COVID-19 had uncoordinated approaches that devalued science, denied the potential impact of the pandemic, delayed comprehensive action, and allowed distrust to undermine efforts, a panel of independent experts said on Wednesday.
In a report released in Geneva, the panel, which reviewed the World Health Organisation’s response to the deadly coronavirus pandemic, also said the denial of scientific evidence was compounded by a failure of leadership to take responsibility or develop coherent strategies aimed at preventing community transmission.
“Countries with the poorest results in addressing COVID-19 had uncoordinated approaches that devalued science, denied the potential impact of the pandemic, delayed comprehensive action, and allowed distrust to undermine efforts,” it said.
“Leaders who appeared sceptical or dismissive of emerging scientific evidence eroded public trust, cooperation and compliance with public health interventions, the report said.
The panel’s review of a range of country responses up until March 2021 demonstrates that countries that recognised the threat of SARS-CoV-2 early, and were able to react comprehensively, fared much better than those that waited to see how the pandemic would develop.
“The early-responding countries acted in a precautionary way to buy time, while getting information from other countries, particularly from Wuhan in China where the impact of the lockdown showed that stringent measures could effectively stop the outbreak, it said.
The experts called on the global community to end the COVID-19 pandemic by immediately implementing a series of bold recommendations to redistribute, fund, and increase the availability of and manufacturing capacity for vaccines, and to apply proven public health measures urgently and consistently in every country.
The report demonstrates that the current system at both national and international levels was not adequate to protect people from COVID-19 . The time it took from the reporting of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown origin in mid-late December 2019 to a Public Health Emergency of International Concern being declared was too long.
February 2020 was also a lost month when many more countries could have taken steps to contain the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and forestall the global health, social, and economic catastrophe that continues its grip.
The panel said that the system as it stands now is clearly unfit to prevent another novel and highly infectious pathogen, which could emerge at any time, from developing into a pandemic.
The report also said the WHO should be granted guaranteed rights of access in countries to investigate emerging outbreaks.
The panel also recommended that national governments and the international community immediately adopt a package of reforms to transform the global pandemic preparedness and response system and prevent a future pandemic.
The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, co-chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was appointed by the WHO Director-General in response to a World Health Assembly resolution calling for an independent, impartial, and comprehensive review of experiences gained and lessons to be learned from the current pandemic.
The panel spent the past eight months rigorously reviewing the evidence on how a disease outbreak became a pandemic, and on global and national responses.
The world must also urgently prepare to prevent a future outbreak from becoming a pandemic. To this end, the independent panel called for the engagement of heads of state and government to lead on efforts to transform the existing system.
The report also shared recommendations for individual countries, including that heads of state and government should appoint national pandemic coordinators who are accountable to them, and who have a mandate to drive whole-of-government coordination for pandemic preparedness and response.
In the presentation of the report and its findings, Panel Co-Chair Sirleaf stressed the need for bold reform: Our message is simple and clear: the current system failed to protect us from the COVID-19 pandemic. And if we do not act to change it now, it will not protect us from the next pandemic threat, which could happen at any time.
Panel Co-Chair Clark, said: Given the scale of devastation from this pandemic and its continuing impact on people across the globe, the Panel resolved to document fully what happened and why, and to make bold recommendations for change.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he welcomed the presentation of the Independent Panel’s findings and recommendations.
“We look forward to the publication of the full report at the #WHA74,” he tweeted and thanked Clark and Sirleaf for their leadership.
According to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracker, more than 159,784,600 people have been infected by the virus which has also killed over
3,320,000 people across the world.
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