- A group of world leaders tasked with leading a postmortem on the global response to the coronavirus pandemic has issued a rebuke to China’s early handling of the outbreak.
- The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, which reports to the World Health Organization, chastised the Chinese government on Monday for what it suggested was a bungled response to COVID-19.
- “What is clear to the Panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January,” they wrote in a new report.
- The group also promised to issue new guidance to fix the world’s “global pandemic alert system,” which it called “not fit for purpose,” in another report coming in May.
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A group of world leaders tasked with leading a postmortem on the global response to the coronavirus pandemic has issued a rebuke to China’s early handling of the outbreak. The group is promising to follow up with a laundry list of new recommendations on where the world went wrong in responding to the crisis.
The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, a group of world leaders that collectively report to the World Health Organization, chastised the Chinese government on Monday for what it suggested was a bungled response to the emergence of COVID-19, which ultimately spiraled out of control last year.
“What is clear to the Panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January,” the Independent Panel said in a new report. The panel counts among its members Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of Liberia.
China was the first country to battle the coronavirus pandemic, locking down many regions at the beginning of 2020 to control its spread. Nevertheless, the virus managed to slip beyond China’s borders.
Still, the panel noted that China isn’t the only country to have struggled in its response to the pandemic.
“Never before in modern times has the international community been called on to respond to a global health crisis of this magnitude and with such widespread consequences,” the report went on to say. “The international system’s response has been found wanting in many respects.”
The group went on to call groups of countries like those in the G7 and G8 “largely reactive” in their COVID response, as opposed to proactive in implementing successful mitigation or control protocols.
With nearly 100 million confirmed cases and more than two million recorded deaths worldwide, following the panel’s guidance could be crucial for preventing such lethal public health crises in the future.
‘The global pandemic alert system is not fit for purpose’
To prevent another threatening virus from overwhelming the world’s patchwork public health systems, the panel promised to review the existing preventative structures as well as shore up protocols to deal with emerging diseases.
“The global pandemic alert system is not fit for purpose,” the report authors wrote. “Critical elements of the system are slow, cumbersome, and indecisive.”
The panel looked back on recommendations for handling the pandemic that the World Health Organization published throughout 2020, and identified nearly 900 individual pieces of guidance issued by the WHO or its regional offices. The flurry of constantly-evolving guidance itself could have overwhelmed people and contributed to confusion, the report noted.
“The sheer volume of recommendations issued suggests to the Panel the major risk of a lack of direction, clarity, and consistency of the type which would have assisted countries to set priorities in their responses,” the authors wrote, adding that they’ll continue to scrutinize the “coherence and prioritization of recommendations, and evidence concerning their actual patterns of use.”
Now, the panel plans to take a close look at “the methods and tools employed by surveillance and alarm systems” around the world and assess how effective those systems are. They committed to issuing a report in May of this year that could help bring about a “global reset,” and lay the groundwork for a more efficacious response than the one which unfolded in 2020.
Another report claims Chinese officials in Wuhan failed to direct a swift, cohesive response to the virus
The panel’s conclusions came out on the same day that the Al Jazeera news agency published previously-unseen videos of the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. The footage, shot clandestinely by two reporters and smuggled outside of China, is said to show how fear and confusion first spread in Wuhan, the hard-hit Chinese capital of Hubei province.
The videos, which Al Jazeera says were shot between January 19 and January 22, 2020, demonstrate the initial lack of urgency with which leaders in Wuhan met the novel coronavirus. Later footage captures the devolution into a much graver state that engulfed the city, which was eventually locked down. One of the reporters who is said to have filmed the footage wrote in his diary that “the lack of staff and equipment in Wuhan caused many infected patients to be denied treatment.”
In spite of China’s early difficulties combating the virus, strict public health measures have helped the country keep its newly-diagnosed daily cases low. Last week, however, the Associated Press reported that China was erecting a new 3,000-unit quarantine facility in the capital of the northern Hebei province, as a response to gradually rising case counts.