Covid: Report finds serious failures in WHO and global response

There were serious failures by both the World Health Organization (WHO) and individual governments in the world’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, an independent review has found.

The panel established by the WHO called the response a “toxic cocktail”.

Without urgent change the world will be at the mercy of another disease outbreak, it said.

The WHO should have declared the outbreak in China an international emergency earlier, the report said.

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response argued that the WHO’s Emergency Committee should have acted to do so at its first meeting on 22 January last year instead of waiting until 30 January.

  • Coronavirus cases, deaths, vaccinations by country
  • WHO says India Covid variant of ‘global concern’

The month following the WHO’s declaration was “lost” as countries failed to take appropriate measures to halt the spread of the virus, the Covid-19: Make it the Last Pandemic report said.

“If travel restrictions had been imposed more quickly, more widely, again that would have been a serious inhibition on the rapid transmission of the disease and that remains the same today.”

The report was compiled in an effort to find answers as to how the coronavirus has killed more than 3.4 million people.

The report says the WHO was hindered by its own regulations that travel restrictions should be a last resort, with Europe and America wasting the entire month of February, acting only when their hospitals began to fill up.

When countries should have been preparing their healthcare systems for an influx of Covid patients, much of the world descended into a “winner takes all” scramble for protective equipment and medicines, the report said.

To prevent another catastrophic pandemic, the report suggests key reforms:

  • The WHO should have a global health threats council with the power to hold member states accountable
  • There should be a disease surveillance system to publish information without the approval of countries concerned
  • Vaccines must be classed as public goods and there should be a pandemic financing facility

“The situation we find ourselves in today could have been prevented,” co-chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a former president of Liberia, told reporters.

“It is due to a myriad of failures, gaps and delays in preparedness and response.”

Panel co-chair and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said it was “critical to have an empowered WHO”.

“If travel restrictions had been imposed more quickly, more widely, again that would have been a serious inhibition on the rapid transmission of the disease and that remains the same today,” she added.

The 21st Century’s ‘Chernobyl moment’


Analysis box by Naomi Grimley, Global health correspondent


The most eye-catching line of this report is that the pandemic was the 21st Century’s “Chernobyl moment” and its assertion that the world wasted time in February 2020 while the virus took hold.

The panel calls for better processes and structures to spot the next highly infectious pathogen. As well as better funding for the World Health Organization to make it stronger and give it more teeth.

After the worst shock to the global economy since World War Two, all countries will agree that it’s a case of “never again”. But will meaningful reform be possible when so much of the current response is still about putting national interests first? The panel has called for rich countries to share one billion doses of vaccine by September, for example. Yet still many nations with large stockpiles remain reluctant to declare their hand.

There are some issues the panel didn’t have time to consider in depth. The most fundamental one remains our relationship with the animal world to stop viruses jumping to humans in the first place.

Comments are closed.