On 1st Jan 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has requested the Chinese authority for specific information on non-typical pneumonia-like cases reported in the city of Wuhan, China. On 5th of January, the organization formally reported this cluster of cases with unknown origins to the world via its information system accessible to all member countries. The novel coronavirus has been identified as the origin of the outbreak on 9th Jan and subsequently, Thailand and Japanese health authorities reported its first cases on 13th and 15th of January confirming the spread of the virus outside the PRC boundaries. The month of January saw a significant rise in the number of novel cases across the world including North America and Europe leading the WHO to respond accordingly (WHO 2021). Based on alarming levels of spread and severity of the novel disease, the WHO assessment on 11th March resulted in the characterization of the outbreak formally as ‘Pandemic’ (WHO 2021) (WHO n.d.). The crucial step which eventually led to the adaptation of series of policy measures creating social, economic, and mental crises never witnessed before.
The timeline mentioned above is the representation of how the world health organization has responded to the crises when it was first officially reported by the Chinese authorities on 31st December 2019. A series of informed decisions have been taken during those initial few weeks as the situation as well as the access and availability of the novel data progresses (WHO 2021). Our early efforts to contain the spread eventually proved to be null and void. Our global policy actions containing Covid 19 in the three crucial months (January, February, and March 2020) failed miserably inviting immense high-level political backlash across the world. The global policy to counter the situation has been subjected to numerous expert reviews which pin down to series of failures, gaps, and delays in early preparedness and response. The report titled “Covid 19 Make it the Last Pandemic” by an international independent panel put forward the failures in the surveillance and alert system, delay in declaring health emergency and subsequent travel restrictions, and sustaining effective responses with accountability (Independent Panel 2021). It was clear that our global efforts for initial containment have terribly failed and now the onus fell to the individual countries. The situation report released by the WHO on 4th of April reported one million cases with 50,000 deaths with local transmissions across all the continents with European and American countries dealing the most (WHO 2019).
The countries across the world have now realized the potential of the pandemic to be a once in a century event. And based on WHO guidelines, the government took the first policy measure by shutting down the economy preventing its transmission based on available science at the time. As the evidence unravels so do its scientific interpretations proving earlier actions to some degree unviable and ineffective for example, the idea of social distancing, the effectiveness of masks in prevention, and many others (Nature 2021). The Chinese authorities initial actions in terms of strict containment measures, widespread testing, diverting financial resources for makeshift mega health and hospital set ups and early investments in vaccine research and manufacturing has led to successfully managed interventions to stop the pandemic transmission in the early stages of the outbreak. The country has managed to effectively deploy resources with a sense of political willingness (MDPI 2021).
China, epicentre of the pandemic has managed the situation in the initial months of its outbreak contrary to the WHO declaring public health emergency on 30th January with official declaration of a pandemic as late as 11th of March. By then epicentre of the pandemic shifted to European and American cities. The major flaw adopted by the west and subsequently by the Asian economies is the mode of denial motivated by the world health organisation. The rule of “earlier and aggressive science-based actions generate better responses” has been proven by many countries subsequently across 2020 as they go through separate and more aggressive waves of the pandemic. The polarised politics in management and communication of the pandemic has led to serious pandemic handling misfortunes. The politics has been operated through fragmented federal structures of the government reinforcing the importance of a centralized mechanism for the decision-making processes as seen in China. The Oceanic countries such as New Zealand and Australia have proved how public trust in government and government interventions can lead a nation out of a pandemic. The sense of social security, new investments, and tax reforms has reduced the trust deficit towards the government. The German response among other European nations is important to highlight as the government has successfully managed in various waves of pandemic through its strong healthcare infrastructure with usual and quick containment efforts (Time 2021).
The pandemic response that India adopted needs to be highlighted appropriately as the decisions have been politically motivated. The delayed and unplanned lockdown in a resource-deprived country has created a series of social and economic disastrous chain reactions to be felt even now after the second wave (Newyorker 2021). The political rallies, religious gatherings, and broken federal structure has led to numerous policy failures in the management of covid 19 resulting in the recent resignation of India’s health minister (Times of India 2021). The statements made by the Ministers on numerous occasions have proved to be ignorant and in a mode of denial contrary to ground reality.
This led me to my final submission to state three holistic lessons in the process that led to policy failures on deciding why some countries not able to efficiently manage the pandemic. The politically expedient leadership has misinformed the debate and discussion around the pandemic and healthcare as seen in the west. Another important factor is the presence of fragmented decentralized & federal structures creating lags and delays in responses on the ground with differing political motivations as seen in India and other European and American nations. The last one is the resilience capacity of the governments to effectively and scientifically respond to new and novel evidence coming up every day in regards to the virology and epidemiology of the pandemic. The sheer failure of many countries including India to respond to new sciences appropriately and when required has led to more damaging subsequent waves especially in India when upgrading health infrastructure, supply chain management, the requirement of stringent containment measures has been consistently ignored by the union government leading to disastrous second wave hence making citizens feel helpless and in turn increasing the trust deficit towards the respective governments.
We are in a pandemic with still no visible hopes for its end. The tragedy is immediate, real but not new or novel. The virus seeks proliferation and not profit or capital as vividly pointed out by author Arundhati Roy in her article ‘The Pandemic is a Portal’. We need to act to safeguard every individual on this planet and we need to act now.
- World Health Organization. (2021). “Interactive Timeline”. Accessed on 12 June 2021, https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/interactive-timeline
- World Health Organization. (n.d.). “Covid 19 Dashboard”. Accessed on 12 June 2021, https://covid19.who.int/
- Independent Panel. (2021). “Covid-19 Make it the Last Pandemic”. Accessed on 12 June 2021, https://theindependentpanel.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/COVID-19-Make-it-the-Last-Pandemic_final.pdf
- World Health Organization. (2019). “Situation report”. Accessed on 12 June 2021, https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200404-sitrep-75-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=99251b2b_4
- Nature. (2021). “Covid research-a year of scientific milestone”. Accessed on 25 June 2021, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00502-w
- MDPI. (2020). “Response to Covid-19”. Accessed on 25 June 2021, https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/7/2304/htm
- Time. (2021). “The best global responses to covid-19”. Accessed on 25 June 2021, https://time.com/5851633/best-global-responses-covid-19/
- Newyorker. (2021). “The politics behind India’s Covid crises”. Accessed on 25 June 2021, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/05/17/the-politics-behind-indias-covid-crisis
- Times of India. (2021). “Health Minister Harshvardhan Resigns”. Accessed on 05 July 2021, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/health-minister-harsh-vardhan-resigns/articleshow/84202177.cms
The views expressed in this article are the author's own.