What investigators discovered in COVID-19 pandemic

Robin Millard, Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 12 2021 06:23 PM | Updated as of May 12 2021 06:51 PM

A patient breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, under a tent installed along the roadside amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Ghaziabad, India on April 29, 2021. Prakash Singh, AFP/file

The International Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response published its report on Wednesday into the handling of COVID-19, making recommendations on readying for the next outbreak.

Here are the report's main findings:

World's pandemic preparedness 

The report said the world "dodged a bullet" with the 2003 SARS epidemic but then, despite alarms sounding following outbreaks of bird flu, Ebola, Zika and MERS, "ignored warnings which resulted in a massive failure". 

It said the pandemic threat was not considered with the same level of concern as war, terrorism, nuclear disaster or global economic instability.

The panel said national preparedness was "vastly underfunded", despite clear evidence of the benefits when an epidemic occurs. It said health systems and their workers were not ready for a prolonged crisis.

Findings on outbreak response

The report said that under the World Health Organization's current set-up, information was treated at a "slow", methodical pace.

It said the Wuhan outbreak was "likely" to have met the criteria for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) -- the WHO's highest alarm level -- at its January 22, 2020 emergency meeting.

And when WHO finally did declare a PHEIC on January 30, it said it was "not followed by forceful and immediate emergency responses in most countries" and did not trigger an "urgent, coordinated, worldwide response".

The global reaction was characterised by "some early and rapid action, but also by delay, hesitation, and denial", the report said. The net result was that the outbreak turned into an epidemic, and then a pandemic.

February 2020 was "a lost month", with many countries only taking action once the term pandemic was finally used on March 11.

Findings on Covid-19 handling 

The report called the pandemic "a catastrophe at every level".

Countries reacted with strategies of either aggressive containment, suppression or mitigation; or no discernable strategy at all.

Poor strategic choices and lack of coordination created a "toxic cocktail" which turned the pandemic into "catastrophic human crisis".

The countries with the worst outcomes "devalued science, denied the potential impact of the pandemic, delayed comprehensive action", the report said.

The denial of science, compounded by leadership failures, eroded public trust in health measures.

Recommendations to end pandemic

The report said high-income countries should provide the 92 poorest territories in the Covax scheme with at least one billion vaccine doses by September 1, and more than two billion by mid-2022.

The G7 should immediately pay 60 percent of the $19 billion required to fund vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics via the WHO's Access to Covid Tools Accelerator in 2021, with other G20 nations and others providing the rest.

The WHO and the World Trade Organization should convene vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers for an agreement on voluntary licensing and technology transfer for Covid-19 vaccine production.

If this results in no action within three months, intellectual property rights should be waived immediately, the report said.

The panel said vaccine production capacity should be built immediately in lower- and middle-income countries.

The world needs infrastructure to produce at least five billion booster doses annually, the experts said.

Preventing future outbreaks 

The panel called for a Global Health Threats Council, endorsed by a UN General Assembly resolution, and a pandemic treaty.

The G20 should create an International Pandemic Financing Facility with $5-10 billion per year for preparedness, and the ability to disburse up to $100 billion at short notice.

A platform should be set up to produce vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics and supplies and secure their rapid, equitable delivery as global common goods.

Public research and development funding should include a commitment to technology transfer and voluntary licensing.

Countries should appoint national pandemic coordinators and conduct annual simulation exercises, the report said.

WHO reform proposals

The WHO should be restructured by May 2022, the panel said. It needs greater control over how its money is spent, while the director-general needs greater authority, under a seven-year single term in office.

Currently, the UN health agency's chief can serve up to two five-year terms.

Rather than waiting for overwhelming evidence, future PHEIC declarations should be done early as a precaution.

A new global surveillance system must be set up by October, including animal and environmental health monitoring. The alert system must be faster and the definition of a suspected outbreak with pandemic potential needs redefining.

The WHO should have the authority to publish information immediately on outbreaks without the prior approval of concerned countries, and to dispatch expert missions immediately.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Watch more in iWantTFC