COVID-19: World Health Organisation should have declared global emergency earlier to prevent outbreak of pandemic – report finds

The World Health Organisation should have declared a global emergency earlier than 30 January 2020 and recommended travel restrictions to prevent the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, a panel has said.

A report issued by an independent panel into the handling of the pandemic has also found the month of February last year was “lost” as countries failed to take strong measures to halt the spread of the virus.

At the launch of the report which is entitled “COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic,” panel co-chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said: “The situation we find ourselves in today could have been prevented.

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

And it calls for bold reforms of the WHO and for national pandemic plans to be updated to prevent another “toxic cocktail” in the future.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, was allowed to evolve into a “catastrophic pandemic” that has killed more than 3.4 million people and devastated the world economy, the report added.

Chinese doctors reported cases of unusual pneumonia in December 2019 and informed authorities, while WHO picked up reports from the Taiwan Centres for Disease Control and others, the panel said.

But WHO’s emergency committee should have declared an international health emergency at its first meeting on 22 January instead of waiting until 30 January, the report said.

Also, that committee did not recommend travel restrictions, due to WHO’s International Health Regulations which need revamping, it said.

Second panel co-chair, and former New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark 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.”

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