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COVID-19 was ‘preventable disaster’ but most countries were ‘too slow’, independent panel finds

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The COVID-19 pandemic was a “preventable disaster” but most countries were too slow in their response to limit its spread, a panel of independent experts said on Wednesday.

The “COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic” report reviewed the handling of the global health crisis for eight month and found “weak links at every point in the chain of preparedness and response.”

The panel was led by former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Among its conclusions, the panel of experts said that “valuable time was lost” by China being too slow to launch the formal notification and emergency declaration procedures under the International Health Regulations despite being quick to spot unusual clusters of pneumonia in December 2019.

Most countries were also criticised for taking a “wait and see” approach in February 2020 after the WHO declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concerns. The panel said that enacting an “aggressive containment strategy” then “could have forestalled the global pandemic”.

Then, it found that “coordinated, global leadership was absent” that that preparedness was “under-funded” and the response funding was “too little, too late”.

Additionally, it found that WHO staff “worked extremely hard” to provide countries with advice, guidance and support but that member states “underpowered the agency to do the job demanded of it.”

The report also highlighted strength on which to build on including the fast development of the vaccine, the open data and open science collaboration and the work of health workers worldwide, 17,000 of whom died because of the virus.

It also flagged that “country wealth was not a predictor of success” with a number of low and middle-income countries able to limit the number of deaths through the successful implementation of public health measures.

It recommended that high-income countries, the majority of which have ordered more vaccine doses than they need for their population, commit to provide the 92 low-and middle-income countries of COVAX with at least one billion doses by September 2021.

It also called on WHO and the World Trade Organisation to convene a meeting of major vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers to agree to the voluntary licensing and technology transfer for COVID-19 vaccines and said the WHO’s independence, authority and financing should be strengthened.

More than 3.3 million people have now lost their lives to the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University. Over 159 million infections have also been confirmed.

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