WHO and global leadership failed to stop 'preventable' Covid pandemic, report finds

12 May 2021, 19:33 | Updated: 12 May 2021, 19:56

Family members in PPE prepare the body a Covid-19 victim for cremation in New Delhi, India
Family members in PPE prepare the body a Covid-19 victim for cremation in New Delhi, India. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The Covid-19 pandemic was a “preventable disaster” made worse by “weak links at every point in the chain of preparedness and response”, an independent review panel has found.

The damning report from the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, set up by the World Health Organization (WHO), concludes: “Preparation was inconsistent and underfunded. The alert system was too slow — and too meek.”

It adds that the WHO was “under-powered” and “global political leadership was absent”.

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It says that years of warnings of an inevitable pandemic were not acted on when the virus began to spread across the world in early 2020.

Although doctors in Wuhan were “quick to spot unusual clusters of pneumonia” in December 2019, formal notification was “much too slow to generate the rapid and precautionary response required”.

And following the declaration of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern at the end of January 2020, “too many countries took a ‘wait and see’ approach”, the report adds.

It says: “Coordinated global leadership was absent and preparedness was under-funded.”

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It praises the work of WHO staff in providing guidance but says the agency was “underpowered” by member states.

Covid has killed more than 3.3 million people around the world, and while vaccine rollouts have seen restrictions eased in Europe and the US, cases are exploding in Asia and the Pacific.

The report, entitled Covid-19: Make it the Last Pandemic, adds that “country wealth was not a predictor of success” in dealing with the pandemic.

However, it adds that vaccine distribution is “blatantly unjust and not strategic”.

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It calls Covid a “terrible wake-up call” and says the world needs to be better prepared for future pandemics.

Among the recommendations made are the creation of a new global threats council led by heads of state and government.

The report calls for the WHO to have financial independence and to establish a disease surveillance system with the authority to publish information without approval of the countries concerned.

It says all countries should update their pandemic preparedness plans within six months.

There was also an immediate request for all G7 countries to provide 60% of $19billion to fund a WHO partnership to fight Covid-19, including vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics, and strengthening of health systems.

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