Poor Preparation, Unnecessary Panic in Facing Pandemic

Bharat Dogra

A common myth regarding COVID-19 is that this is a very new type of crisis. On the contrary scientists and expert health organizations have been warning about this type of crisis for a fairly long time. For example, let us see the following quotes from the World Health Report (1996) of the WHO –

“During the past 20 years, at least 30 new diseases have emerged to threaten the health of hundreds of millions of people. For many of these diseases there is no treatment, cure or vaccine and the possibility of preventing and controlling them is limited.”

“Without doubt diseases as yet unknown—but with the potential to be the AIDS of tomorrow, lurk in the shadows.”

“We stand on the brink of a global crisis of infectious diseases. No country is safe from them…”

“Any epidemic anywhere must now be seen as a threat to virtually all countries especially those that serve as major hubs of international travel”.

Each of these statements was issued officially by the World Health Organization. Yet the kind of preparations and priorities these and other such warnings required have been neglected almost all over the world by national governments and even international agencies.

An important contribution to the debate on the most appropriate and reason-based response to COVID-19 has been made by 8 senior Indian scientists who have   written a review article in the latest issue of the prestigious Indian Journal of Medical Research. This review article titled ‘The 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID—19) pandemic—A review of the current evidence’ has been written by Dr. Pranab Chatterjee (lead author), Nazia Nagi, Anup Agarwal, Bhabatosh Das, Sayantan Banerjee, Swarup Sarkar, Nivedita Gupta and Raman. R. Gangakhedkar. All the 8 scientists are with leading institutions.

Speaking of the overall weakness and inadequacy of the global response this paper says, “The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 has once again exposed the weaknesses of global health systems preparedness, ability to respond to an infectious threat , the rapidity of transmission of infections across international borders and the ineffectiveness of knee-jerk policy responses to emerging/re-emerging infectious disease threats.”

Further these scientists say, “The response mounted to the COVID-19 threat has largely been reactive. The lack of a reliable Early Warning, Alert and Response System, inability to mount transparent confinement measures, lack of community engagement for self-deferral and isolation and overdependence on quarantine measures have exposed the fissures in the ability of health systems across the world. It has clearly demonstrated the weak preparedness against emerging and re-emerging dangerous pathogens across the world.”

Speaking of future tasks this important review article says, “The infectious disease threats of our times are far from over, and if these are to be contained with lower magnitudes of loss to human life and economy, we need to invest in building up people centric health systems, which pre-empt and prevent, rather than work in reactive feedback loops driven by the burden of human misery.”

The quotes from the WHO report of 1996 given above reveal that several new diseases had appeared in preceding years to threaten the health of a very large number of people at world level. However, nothing like the prolonged lock-downs seen this year in 2020 took place at that time and the world could handle these new diseases without any major disruption at global level. In fact, another peculiar aspect this time has been that a few weeks before COVID-19 appeared three international organizations had got together to organize a simulation regarding how a much more destructive corona virus pandemic is likely to play out at world-level. Several descriptions of this EVENT-201 are available. Writing in The Wire, Dr. Jacob Puliyel has written,

"Interestingly enough, some people anticipated how a pandemic would play out in October 2019, well before the first cases were reported in China. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Centre, the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had organised a pandemic response exercise called Event 201, and recorded and uploaded the whole thing to YouTube. The participants of Event 201 discussed every detail of how the world should be locked down, how news and social media would have to be controlled, how the stock market would crash, how public unrest should be dealt with and how leaders who fall out of line should be counteracted by their counterparts in other countries. The simulated exercise even detailed how ‘positive’ stories of survivors must be publicised in the media.

"Members of the Johns Hopkins Centre have emphasised that they only modelled a fictitious pandemic and that they didn’t endeavour to predict any real outcomes. By sheer coincidence, a new coronavirus outbreak began to unfold a month later. Event 201 was just in time to indicate some protocols for the world to follow, and thus far we have gone by the playbook. Fortunately, the simulations weren’t entirely accurate in some ways. For one, Event 201 assumed a more lethal virus than the new coronavirus has been found to be."

While there was actually very poor preparation to face even a relatively low fatality rate pandemic like COVID-19, there were many distortions at various levels which led to a panic-driven response rather than a balanced response. It is these distortions, exaggerations without the necessary evidence and the panic created by them which have caused much of the damage. We now know that not only is there inadequate real preparation but in addition there are the problems created by powerful international forces who deliberately create panic and then justify harsh and draconian measures on the basis of panic.

The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.

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Jun 6, 2020

Bharat Dogra

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