COVID doctor

A prompt and collaborative global response could have stopped the 2019 COVID endemic in China turning into a global disaster in 2020, according to a scathing report on the response of world leaders and the World Health Organisation (WHO) to the pandemic.

An overview by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, commissioned by the WHO, released on Wednesday identifies lessons for stopping future pandemics and makes dozens of suggestions for reform.

The panel did not study the origins of SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but does criticise the Chinese authorities and the WHO for being too gradual to recognise that the virus was spreading between individuals in Wuhan and then to warn the world about human to human transition.

In the future, the report says, “a precautionary approach should be used from the outset, acknowledging that a respiratory disease may spread from person to person unless and until established otherwise”.

With regards to International Health Regulations (IHR), which are legally binding instruments on illness outbreaks, the report states that, in their current form, they “serve to constrain rather than facilitate rapid action”.

Concerning travel, the panel found that “it is hard to see that the IHR’s discouragement of restrictions is realistic for pandemics in our highly interconnected age”.

Amongst shortcomings in individual countries’ responses, the report identifies that “countries with poor results had uncoordinated approaches that devalued science, denied the potential impact of the pandemic, delayed comprehensive action, and allowed distrust to undermine efforts”, the report indicates.

“The combination of poor strategic choices, unwillingness to tackle inequalities, and an uncoordinated response system allowed the pandemic to trigger a catastrophic human and socioeconomic crisis”, it finds.

To avoid a future pandemic, the report calls for a “series of crucial reforms that will address gaps in high-level coordinated leadership globally and nationally, funding, access to what must become global goods, and WHO’s independence, focus, and authority”.

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