World is failing to learn Covid-19 lessons, warns WHO-backed panel

Preparedness experts say necessary changes are not being made

TOPSHOT - Medical staff in protective gears distribute information sheets to Iraqi passengers returning from Iran at Najaf International Airport on March 5, 2020. Iraqi health authorities announced the country's first two deaths from the new coronavirus, one in the capital Baghdad and the other in the autonomous Kurdish region. / AFP / Haidar HAMDANI
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There is “scant evidence” that the world is learning the right lessons from the pandemic – meaning humanity remains vulnerable to a future disease outbreak, a panel of experts has said.

A scathing report said apathy, neglect and political divisions meant the necessary changes to prepare for future crises were not being made.

The panel, which is overseen by the World Health Organisation, said the world should “feel shame” over vaccine inequality and medical shortages suffered during the pandemic.

The report by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board said the world was “acutely vulnerable” to future health threats.

“While this disaster should have brought us together, instead we are divided, fragmented, and living in worlds apart,” said Elhadj As Sy, the panel’s co-chairman.

“Sadly, there is scant evidence that we are learning the right lessons from this pandemic. Thousands continue to die every day, yet many talk and act as if the pandemic is over. Already, attention is starting to wander.

“We are once again moving from panic to apathy and neglect. If we do not change course … we will have squandered a rare and fleeting opportunity to implement the transformative changes needed.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the WHO, said calls for change had been made before but not acted upon in time.

"This is important not only for this pandemic, but for the threats of the future," he said. "And as this new report makes clear, it is crucial not only that we act, but that we act in a coherent, coordinated matter."

The panel called for a stronger WHO with more resources and a collective financing mechanism to make money available for a future crisis.

It said world leaders should hold a summit on health emergency preparedness to prevent a repeat of the pandemic.

But it criticised them for focusing on their own countries, with global solidarity “remaining a mere catchphrase”.

“Fragmented by growing nationalism, geopolitical tensions, and deep inequalities, the world still struggles to mitigate the impact of Covid-19,” it said.

“Covid-19 has exposed a broken world that is inequitable, unaccountable, and divided.”

Nearly five million people have died from Covid-19, the WHO says, with more than 243m confirmed cases.

Taking into account excess mortality and deaths indirectly linked to Covid-19, the WHO estimates the true death toll could be two to three times higher.

Updated: October 26, 2021, 8:55 AM