Writing the long Covid-19 Story

When it all started more than one year ago, it was evident we had been (literally) caught in an event that was going to change a lot of things in our day to day. We all as a society but western governments in particular, were struggling to understand what to do, and I could not avoid a feeling of deja vú. It was the second time I was living a collapse that fit precisely into the description of my first post in this blog Mind The Post:

Yet we are constantly urged to act upon matters we don’t understand well enough. We are constantly making decisions under the pressure of unavoidable deadlines or unforeseen events, of which last year we have seen quite a few good examples. The more complex the environment grows, the larger the intelligence gap becomes and the more random the contribution of every individual.

In the very first moment, there was only a huge divide between those who said “who could have anticipated” and those who said “A pandemic (in particular one like this) should and must have been anticipated and prevented”. It was clear that it will take a long time to fully understand the details and have a transparent analysis and diagnosis.

I still think it will take time to write down the whole COVID-19 story. There are too many interests to protect. Yet, the analysis is going on, and more and more voices claim for a deeper one and the need to see behind the curtain to understand.

Here are 4 flashes.

I Make COVID-19 the Last Pandemic

The covid-19 pandemic is a catastrophe that could have been averted, say a panel of 13 independent experts tasked with assessing the global response to the crisis.

Since September 2020, the Independent Panel has systematically examined why COVID-19 became a global health and socio-economic crisis. In May 2021, they presented its findings and recommendations for action to curb the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure that any future infectious disease outbreak does not become another catastrophic pandemic.

By all measures, the impact of the pandemic is massive. It does not have to be this way. Ending this pandemic as quickly as possible goes hand in hand with preparing to avert another one.

This pandemic has shaken some of the standard assumptions that a country’s wealth will secure its health. Leadership and competence have counted more than cash in pandemic responses. Many of the best examples of decisive leadership have come from governments and communities in more resource-constrained settings. There is a clear opportunity to build a future beyond the pandemic that draws on the wellsprings of wisdom from every part of the world.

The panel analysed what happened, what we’ve learned and what needs to change:

  • Before the pandemic, the failure to take preparation seriously.
  • A virus moving faster than the surveillance and alert system
  • Early responses lacking urgency and effectiveness.
  • Successful countries were proactive, unsuccessful ones denied and delayed.
  • A crisis in supplies
  • The failure to sustain the response in the face of the crisis
  • National health systems under enormous stress.
  • Jobs at risks.
  • Vaccine nationalism

The Panel’s call for immediate actions to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. There are 5.7 billion people in the world aged 16 and over. All need access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. This is not some aspiration for tomorrow — it is urgent, now. COVAX has secured 1.1 billion vaccine doses and has optioned 2.5 billion more.

For the Panel it is clear that the combination of poor strategic choices, unwillingness to tackle inequalities,
and an uncoordinated system created a toxic cocktail which allowed the pandemic to turn into a catastrophic human crisis.

These are the recommendations for transforming the international system for pandemic preparedness and response:

  1. Elevate leadership to prepare for and respond to global health threats to the highest levels to ensure just, accountable and multisectoral action
  2. Focus and strengthen the independence, authority and financing of the WHO
  3. Invest in preparedness now to create fully functional capacities at the national, regional and global level
  4. Establish a new international system for surveillance, validation and alert
  5. Establish a pre-negotiated platform for tools and supplies
  6. Raise new international financing for the global public goods of pandemic preparedness and response
    Countries

COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic by The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness & Response (Experts, page 78)

II Investigate the origins of Covid

More investigation is still needed to determine the origin of the pandemic. Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable. Greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary. (Of course, not everybody agrees.)

In May 2020, the World Health Assembly requested that the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general work closely with partners to determine the origins of SARS-CoV-2. In November, the Terms of Reference for a China–WHO joint study were released. The information, data, and samples for the study’s first phase were collected and summarized by the Chinese half of the team; the rest of the team built on this analysis.

Although there were no findings in clear support of either a natural spillover or a lab accident, the team assessed a zoonotic spillover from an intermediate host as “likely to very likely,” and a laboratory incident as “extremely unlikely.” Furthermore, the two theories were not given balanced consideration. Only 4 of the 313 pages of the report and its annexes addressed the possibility of a laboratory accident.

Notably, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus commented that the report’s consideration of evidence supporting a laboratory accident was insufficient and offered to provide additional resources to fully evaluate the possibility.

As scientists with relevant expertise, we agree with the WHO director-general, the United States and 13 other countries, and the European Union that greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve. We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data. A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest. Public health agencies and research laboratories alike need to open their records to the public. Investigators should document the veracity and provenance of data from which analyses are conducted and conclusions drawn, so that analyses are reproducible by independent experts.

Bloom, Jesse D., et al. “Investigate the origins of COVID-19.” Science 372.6543 (2021): 694-694.

Investigate the origins of COVID-19

III Unmasking China’s Global Strategy

New research by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has found that China successfully activated existing media infrastructures to seed positive narratives globally amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The IFJ’s new report released on May 12, reveals that China is a growing force in the information war.

The findings reveal an activation of the existing media infrastructure China has put in place globally, which includes training programs and sponsored trips for global journalists, content sharing agreements feeding state-sponsored messages into the global news ecosystems, memoranda of understanding with global journalism unions, and increasing ownership of publishing platforms,

The report reveals that China is a growing force in the information war. It is vital to resist such pressures exerted by the Chinese authorities as well as those which come from the U.S., Russia, and other governments around the world. Journalists’ unions must be vigilant to protect independent journalism from imposed state narratives and influences

The Covid-19 Story: Unmasking China’s Global Strategy, IFJ Report on China and its impact on media 2021.

IV Singing like a canary

Last but not least, Dominic Cummings has decided to burn the boats or go all-in, and he is tweeting away what everybody by now suspects and it is described in this post, that (most) governments were caught off guard and they had to improvise. That’s terrible if we think of what one would expect of an informed government, but we might accept it. What’s terrible is that, on top on that, we have to live with their lies.

Dominic Cummings has launched an extraordinary new attempt to destroy the government’s credibility over Covid-19, claiming that ministers had backed a policy of “herd immunity” then lied about having done so.

Dominic Cummings claims ministers backed herd immunity against Covid, The Guardian

Cummings’ story goes on. This week we will know more or… who knows?

____________________

Featured Image: Mike Mccubbin, via Jenniffer Ouellette & Boing Boing: Getting groceries during COVID-19 maps perfectly onto Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

4 comments

  1. Interesting post. I do not want to be too cynical, but:

    1) Of course, Covid will not be the last pandemic. It cannot, because humanity is suffering pandemics for millennia and we are animals.
    2) Certainly, it originated in China and the Chinese government is not happy about it. They are trying to counter that.
    3) Governments, and experts were caught unprepared and mistakes were made. Cummings is clever, but this is easy after you know the results.
    4) Trade offs are always present

    However, by and large, even if mistakes are still there, I think that it could have been worse and humanity has learnt from it. After all, there have been not so many deaths and the economy could be recovering to a slightly better situation than before.

  2. By the way, you who are always well informed: Do you know of good, well documented articles on the actual effect of measures such as masking and closing of stadiums, cinemas, etc. I have the Economist’s articles, but they are not really conclusive.

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