An independent panel concluded that the catastrophic proportions of the coronavirus pandemic could have been prevented, but a “toxic cocktail” of dithering and poor coordination meant the warning signs went unnoticed.
In its long-awaited final report on Wednesday, the Independent Panel on Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR) said a number of bad decisions had resulted in COVID-19 killing at least 3.3 million people and devastating the global economy to date.
Institutions “failed to protect people” and science-denying leaders undermined public confidence in health interventions, the IPPPR said. Early responses to the outbreak identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019 “lacked urgency” and February 2020 was a costly “lost month” as countries ignored the alarm, the panel said.
She called on the richest countries to donate a billion doses of vaccine to the poorest to help fight the current pandemic and called on the world’s richest nations to fund new organizations focused on preparing for the next pandemic.
The IPPPR report was requested by the member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) in May last year. The panel was jointly chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
The report “COVID-19: Make It The Last Pandemic” argued that the global alert system needs to be overhauled to prevent a similar disaster.
“The situation we are in today could have been prevented,” Sirleaf told reporters. “It is due to a variety of errors, gaps, and delays in preparing and responding.”
According to the report, the emergence of COVID-19 was marked by a mix of “some early and rapid action, but also delay, hesitation and denial”.
“Bad strategic decisions, unwillingness to address inequalities, and an uncoordinated system resulted in a toxic cocktail that allowed the pandemic to turn into a catastrophic human crisis.”
The threat of a pandemic has been overlooked and countries are completely unprepared to deal with one, the report said.
The panel did not spare WHO, saying it could have declared the situation a Public Health Emergency (PHEIC) on January 22, 2020 – the highest level of alert. Instead, it waited eight days before doing this.
Given the relative inactivity of the countries, “we might still have ended up in the same place,” said Clark.
It wasn’t until March, after the WHO called it a pandemic – a term that is officially not part of their alert system – that countries were encouraged to act.
As for the initial outbreak, “there have clearly been delays in China – but there have been delays everywhere,” she added.
Without the delay between the initial identification in Wuhan and the PHEIC statement – and then the “lost month” in February 2020 – “we believe we would not be dealing with an accelerating pandemic as we have been in the past 15 or 16 months or so have done so. It’s that simple, ”said Clark.
The panel made several recommendations to tackle the current pandemic.
Rich, well-vaccinated countries should provide at least one billion doses of vaccine to the 92 poorest areas of the COVAX system by September 1 and more than two billion doses by mid-2022.
Developed nations of the G7 should pay 60 percent of the $ 19 billion required to fund vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics through WHO’s Access to COVID Tools Accelerator program in 2021. G20 fellow campaigners and others should do the rest.
WHO and the World Trade Organization should also get major vaccine-making countries and manufacturers to agree to voluntary licenses and technology transfers for COVID-19 vaccines, the panel said.
“If no action is taken within three months, a waiver of … intellectual property rights should take effect immediately.”