With the closing months of another year claimed by the pandemic upon us, the most pressing issue that faces us, the inhabitants of this quaint coincidence that is the third rock from the Sun, must surely be whether 2022 may go down the same way as its blighted predecessors.
In hindsight, 2020 had arrived with humanity at the pinnacle of its progress as a species, armed to the nines to tackle all comers with quantum computing, AI, blockchain, virtual reality, broadband (10G?), genetic engineering, robotics and other developments. Space travel was being privatised, and even carbon from the atmosphere - where it has the capacity to harm us - was being captured and stored deep underground in geological formations, where it is less potent.
All of it came a cropper however, when confronted with an enemy as old as life itself. The novel coronavirus that was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan - officially on December 31, 2019 - rode precisely on the fruits of our progress to propel itself into the fastest-spreading pandemic in recorded history. No corner of the globe with human settlement was spared. Covid erupted into a polarised world characterised by heightened nationalism, distrust and inequality. It has only accelerated those trends. The inadequacies start at the top. The UN general assembly, UN security council, World Health Assembly, G7 and G20 leaders among others, have little to show for their efforts other than declarations of intent.
Two years ago, three months before coronavirus erupted, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) issued a warning to the international community that a pandemic was only a matter of time, and that the world was not prepared. Yet like Cassandra in the Bible, their words were destined to fall on deaf ears.
Co-convened by the Director-General of the World Health Organization and the President of the World Bank, the GPMB is comprised of political leaders, agency principals and world-class experts. It is tasked with providing an independent and comprehensive appraisal for policy makers and the world about progress towards increased preparedness and response capacity for disease outbreaks and other emergencies with health consequences. This week it released its latest annual report - a good two months ahead of time to get on the agenda for COP26. It concluded there was "scant evidence" that the right lessons were being learnt from the coronavirus crisis, despite the deaths of nearly 5m people worldwide.
To help countries become more resilient to future pandemics, a collective financing mechanism should be established within the World Bank, it also said. Estimates suggested at least $10bn in seed funding would be needed, and annual contributions not only from countries but the private sector, to ensure that sum was raised each year. The WHO and other international bodies should also develop a "real-time surveillance platform with mechanisms for sharing data and [biological] samples", to address "major gaps in the world's surveillance and response capacities", as well as in its ability to produce, manufacture and deploy necessary medicines and equipment, the board said.
In "the most glaring example of dysfunction", division and competition among countries had increased the gap in vaccination levels between wealthy and poorer countries, which in turn contributed to the emergence of new variants. About 63 percent of residents of high-income countries had received at least one vaccine dose but only 4.5 percent in low-income countries, the board said. Cassandra has sounded her warning. Can we afford to ignore her again?
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