Pandemic could have been avoided: report

A report by the World Health Organisation-established Independent Panel for pandemic Preparedness and Response has concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic could have been avoided.

The report titled “COVID-19: Make it the last pandemic” argues that the pandemic was a preventable disaster and that recommendations by the panel are urgent and vital.

“The Independent Panel has found weak links at every point in the chain of preparedness and response. Preparation was inconsistent and underfunded,” the report’s summary states.

“The alert system was too slow—and too meek. The World Health Organization was underpowered. The response has exacerbated inequalities. Global political leadership was absent.”

The panel’s key findings explain that the initial outbreak became a pandemic as a result of gaps and failings at every critical juncture of preparedness for and response to COVID-19

The findings indicate that years of warnings of an inevitable pandemic threat were not acted on and there was inadequate funding while stressing preparedness, despite the increasing rate at which zoonotic diseases are emerging.

“Clinicians in Wuhan, China, were quick to spot unusual clusters of pneumonia of unknown origin in late December 2019,” the report summary states.

“The formal notification and emergency declaration procedures under the International Health Regulations, however, were much too slow to generate the rapid and precautionary response required to counter a fast-moving new respiratory pathogen. Valuable time was lost.”

The findings also reveal that a month following the declaration of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern, “too many countries  took a ‘wait and see’ approach rather than enacting an aggressive containment strategy that could have forestalled the global pandemic.”

Other findings by the panel were that coordinated, global leadership was absent and preparedness was under-funded and response funding was too slow.

“W.H.O staff worked extremely hard to provide advise and guidance, and support to countries, but Member States had underpowered the agency to do the job demanded of it,” the report summary states.

“The lack of planning and gaps in social protection have resulted in the pandemic widening inequalities with a disproportionate socio[1]economic impact on women and vulnerable and marginalized populations, including migrants and workers in the informal sector."

The findings also stated that health impacts have been compounded for people with underlying health conditions while education for millions of the most disadvantaged children has been terminated early by the pandemic.

Impacts of the pandemic can be felt everywhere in the world and continues to impact Samoa in many ways.

In March 2020, Samoa’s initial state of emergency to prevent the spread of the coronavirus came into effect and was initially intended to last for only two weeks.

Stringent restrictions, including on retail trading hours, remained in place for the first few months, but have since been relaxed to encourage trading and stimulate the economy.

The Asian Development Bank (A.D.B) recently revealed in one of its recent reports “Asian Development Outlook 2021: Financing a Green and Inclusive Recovery” that Samoa's economy will shrink another 9.2 per cent this fiscal year, with economic recovery possible only in 2022, when Samoa may be able to again compete for international tourists.

Economic recovery is forecast to be reached only by 2022, after full vaccine coverage is estimated to have been achieved and international travelers return in significant numbers.

The tourism sector had also been greatly impacted by the pandemic but recently the Samoa 2040 plan was launched by the caretaker Government and listed tourism as one of the four pillars for driving growth in the coming decades.

The plan predicts that tourism will be the largest driver of the nation's economic growth by 2040, accounting for roughly $500 million of the plan's goal to boost the nation's Gross Domestic Product by $1.25 billion by 2040.

The plan reveals that the Government hopes to stop more business from closing due to the pandemic-led economic downturn and even attract bigger brand name hotels to set up shop in Samoa to attract “discerning international travellers.”

The Independent Panel made seven recommendations to ensure that a future outbreak does not become a pandemic.

These recommendations are: Elevate pandemic preparedness and response to the highest level of political leadership; Strengthen the independence, authority and financing of W.H.O; Invest in preparedness now to prevent the next crisis; A new agile and rapid surveillance information and alert system; Establish a pre-negotiated platform for tools and supplies; Raise new international financing for pandemic preparedness and response; National Pandemic coordinators have a direct line to Head of State or Government.

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