An independent panel decided that the catastrophic scale of the coronavirus epidemic could be prevented but warning signs were not sounded to imply a “toxic cocktail” of anger and poor coordination.
In its long-awaited final report on Wednesday, the Independent Panel on Epidemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR) said multiple bad decisions meant COVID-19 had so far killed at least 3.3 million people and destroyed the global economy.
Institutions have “failed to protect people” and leaders who deny science have eroded public confidence in health interventions, the IPPR reported. The panel said initial reactions to the outbreak in Wuhan, China, in December 2010 were “lacking in urgency” and costly “lost months” in February 2020 as countries failed to heed the alarm.
It called on rich countries to donate one billion vaccine doses to the poorest to cope with the current epidemic, and it called on the world’s richest countries to fund new dedicated organizations ready for the next epidemic.
The IPPR report was requested by the member countries of the World Health Organization (WHO) in May last year. The panel was chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.
The report, “Cavid-19: Create the latest epidemic,” argued that overhauling the global alarm system was needed to prevent similar disasters.
“The situation we are in today could have been prevented,” Sirleaf told reporters. “This is due to a myriad of failures, emptiness and delays in preparation and response.”
The report said the emergence of COVID-19 was characterized by a mixture of “somewhat preliminary and rapid steps, but with delay, hesitation and denial”.
“Poor strategic choices, reluctance to tackle inequality and an unprotected system have created a toxic cocktail that has turned the epidemic into a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.”
The report found that the epidemic threat was ignored and countries were terribly unprepared to deal with it.
The panel did not release the WHO, saying the situation could be declared an international concern public health emergency (PHEIC) – its maximum level – in January 2020. Instead, it waited eight more days before doing so.
Yet, given the relative inactivity of countries, “we may still end up in the same place,” Clark said.
It was only in March after the World WHO described it as an epidemic – a term that was not officially part of its warning system – that countries were shaken step by step.
Regarding the initial outbreak, “there were obvious delays in China – but delays everywhere,” he added.
Without falling behind in their first identification and PHEIC announcement – and then the “lost month” of February 2020 – “we believe we won’t look at the last 15 or 16 months or so of an epidemic so simple,” Clark said.
The panel made several recommendations on how to deal with the current epidemic.
Rich, well-vaccinated countries need to deliver at least one billion doses of the vaccine to the 92 poorest regions of the COVAX project by September 1, and more than two billion by mid-2022, it said.
G-7 industrialized nations will have to pay 60 percent of the bn 19bn needed to fund vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics through the WHO’s Equipment Accelerator Program in 2021, it added. Fellow G20 countries and others should provide the rest.
The panel said the WHO and the World Trade Organization should also agree to voluntary licensing and technology transfer of the Covid-19 vaccine to the original vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers.
“If no action is taken within three months, immediately … intellectual property rights should be waived.”