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Massive global failures in COVID response

Failures in the global response to the outbreak of COVID-19 led to an estimated 17.7 million deaths to date, a report published in the Lancet has found

Failures in the global response to the outbreak of COVID-19 led to an estimated 17.7 million deaths to date, a report published in the Lancet has found.

The Lancet Commission on lessons for the future from the pandemic cites widespread failures regarding prevention, transparency, rationality, standard public health practice, operational coordination, and global solidarity. It concludes that multilateral cooperation must improve to end the pandemic and manage future global health threats effectively.

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‘The staggering human toll of the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic is a profound tragedy and a massive societal failure at multiple levels,’ said Jeffrey Sachs, who is a professor at Columbia University and president of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

‘We must face hard truths: too many governments have failed to adhere to basic norms of institutional rationality and transparency; too many people have protested [against] basic public health precautions, often influenced by misinformation; and too many nations have failed to promote global collaboration to control the pandemic.’

The report notes that the distribution of death rates internationally was almost the inverse of what was expected before the pandemic. The US and the UK were respectively ranked first and second in terms of pandemic and epidemic preparedness by the 2019 Global Health Security Index, while the Western Pacific region scored much lower.

But the commission said that the index had failed to predict the disappointingly poor public policy response of Europe and the Americas. The experience of the SARS epidemic of 2002 meant that the Western Pacific adopted relatively successful suppression strategies, resulting in lower cumulative deaths of around 300 per million people, while failures in Europe and the Americas led to the highest levels of cumulative deaths among World Health Organization regions, at around 4000 per million.

‘Nursing staff were failed by the UK government time and time again during the pandemic. The government moved far too slowly on key guidance, including around risk assessments which help to protect healthcare workers. At the same time IPC guidance failed to acknowledge that COVID-19 can be spread via the airborne route under normal circumstances including activities such as talking, sneezing and coughing,’ said RCN Director for England, Patricia Marquis.

‘This was alongside inadequate PPE and testing and poor record keeping of the number of health and care staff who died. Overall, there was a total lack of preparedness for the public health emergency we faced. The government needs to listen now and not wait until the Covid inquiry to learn lessons.’