Warnings of a “rapidly moving” pandemic that the world is not prepared for were aired in a September 2019 report by a body established by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The paper criticises governments for not implementing recommendations from the 2009 H1N1 or 2014-2016 ebola outbreaks and warned of a deadly respiratory pathogen sweeping the globe, echoing what has unfolded with coronavirus this year.
The A World At Risk report warned it was “well past time to act” and was compiled by the Global Preparedness Management Board, a group set up by WHO and the World Bank Group in order to prepare for worldwide health emergencies.
In its opening summary, the report states that “outbreaks have been on the rise for the past several decades and the spectre of a global health emergency looms large”.
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“If it is true to say “what’s past is prologue”, then there is a very real threat of a rapidly moving, highly lethal pandemic of a respiratory pathogen killing 50 to 80 million people and wiping out nearly 5% of the world’s economy,” it states.
While the coronavirus is not expected to tally anywhere near as high as the death toll written out there, the report’s warnings of inadequate preparation for a respiratory virus pandemic appear prescient today.
The virus has swept across the world, leading countries to implement social distancing and stringent lockdowns to try stem the coronavirus’s spread and stop their healthcare systems being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
The board looked at policy responses recommended in the aftermath of past outbreaks and found they had been poorly implemented.
“For too long, we have allowed a cycle of panic and neglect when it comes to pandemics: we ramp up efforts when there is a serious threat, then quickly forget about them when the threat subsides,” the report states.
“It is well past time to act.”
It made a series of recommendations, including telling governments to invest in preparedness, building strong systems to counter a pandemic and better international coordination.
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Any chance to act on the report – which outlined milestones to be achieved by September 2020 – would have been disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak.
Globally, there are almost 500,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 20,000 people have died after being infected, according to Johns Hopkins University in the US.
Italy and Spain have recorded the highest totals of deaths, followed by China, where the outbreak began. There were 9,529 confirmed cases in the UK and 463 patients have died as of Wednesday.
There have also been 111,000 recoveries globally.