The pandemic was a catastrophe that could have been prevented if the world leaders reacted in a reasonable, coordinated way. As The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response concluded in their final report, millions of people didn’t have to die. They did because institutions failed to protect them. And if we let them simply leave it all behind, a tremendous lesson learned that could prevent another pandemic will be wasted. All the chaos, death, and economic decline with lasting consequences don’t have to happen again. If we don’t repeat the same mistakes, we can avoid another (otherwise inevitable) pandemic.
The Chernobyl of 21st century
“I really believe that there’s a window here, which if we’re not careful will close… We’ve had the most monumental warning from some combination of natural and man-made disasters. Next time it could be much worse. It could be more transmissible and more fatal,” said David Miliband, International Rescue Committee president and chief executive office. He and other experts presented their findings in an online discussion about their final report named “COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic”, The Harvard Gazette reports.
Other countries have experienced this “window” before during previous epidemics. Those that learned from their mistakes have fared exceedingly well during the Covid-19 pandemic. Take Taiwan, for example. The country that went through SARS scares a couple of years back implemented immediate, reasonable measures. They held Covid at bay until this May, but the moment they abandoned the strict rules, things went south.
“This is the ‘Chernobyl moment’ of the 21st century. The idea is that if we want this to be the last pandemic, then we need to create the political will [to deal] with it. Otherwise, it’s going to be another report that’s going to collect dust on a shelf,” said Joanne Liu, past president of Doctors Without Borders.
Avoiding the pandemic mistakes
Experts analyzed the pandemic strategies of 27 countries, including the seven best and seven worst. The message was clear. Countries such as the US and Brazil fared the worst as they refused to comply with scientific advice, reacted too late, and their steps were chaotic. On the contrary, the well-performing countries acted quickly and were highly coordinated. Consistency has been crucial, and taking advantage of previous experience suggests to have helped as well.
The independent panel believes that pandemics are too complex and significant to rely on health ministers of individual countries. Instead, a small-sized, flexible, fast-acting Global Threats Council led by heads of state and government should be formed. Funding should be doubled to $10 billion a year. Moreover, the countries should be ready to raise 10 times more if an outbreak really happens. The report also recommends empowering WHO and making it more efficient, creating a new global system for disease surveillance, and transforming the current vaccine manufacturing and distribution.
A long way to go
In the meantime, the recent G-7 leaders’ summit was still very much about the current pandemic. The nations have decided to share at least 1 billion coronavirus shots with countries in need. That’s both an altruistic and an essential step should the world return to some form of normal.
Bill Gates says that will come by the end of 2022. An exciting prospect, but as The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response warned: we don’t have any time to become complacent just because the situation will get better.