Independent panel calls out China, WHO for acting too slow to contain COVID-19

The WHO’sdirector general Tedros Adhanom,  (L) shaking hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, 28 January 2020.  Image: NAOHIKO HATTA – POOL/GETTY IMAGES

DHARAMSALA, 19 Jan: As the world continues to grapple with COVID-19 pandemic, an independent panel commissioned by the World Health Organization(WHO) has declared that the catastrophe could have been averted had China and the WHO acted faster during the early stages of its outbreak.

“The initial chronology of the early phase of the outbreak suggests that there was potential for early signs to have been acted on more rapidly, with an escalation of response tied more immediately to the emerging information about the spread of the virus,” the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response has said in its report.

“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(2020),”  the Swiss-based panel said in their second report.

The first COVID-19 case was reported from Wuhan, China in December 2019 but it was reported to the WHO only in December end. The WHO aggravated the situation as it “did not convene its emergency committee until 22 January 2020 — and then waited until 22 January before declaring an international emergency.”

“It is not clear why the committee did not meet until the third week of January, nor is it clear why it was unable to agree on the declaration of a public health emergency of international concern when it was first convened,” the report said.

Further, the Panel added that following the lapses from China and the WHO, there was a sequence of failures across the world’s response to the pandemic as “they have been no match for the virus and the speed with which it has spread across the globe.”

“We have failed in our collective capacity to come together in solidarity to create a protective web of human security. The worst of the pandemic and its impact are yet to come as we write at the beginning of January 2021”.

The WHO’s Independent Panel, tasked with charting what went wrong, what lessons can be learnt from that, and what could be done better in future said that “the world was not prepared for the pandemic” and called for “more decisive and effective action immediately to save lives and reduce the overall damage from the pandemic.”

The Panel stated that the WHO has been underpowered to do the job expected of it and concluded by adding that “the COVID-19 pandemic must be a catalyst for fundamental and systemic change in preparedness for future such events, from the local community right through to the highest international levels.”

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response was set up following a request from the World Health Assembly in May for an independent review of the response to COVID-19.

The Panel will submit its third and last report at the World Health Assembly in May later this year.

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