Home Editors' Picks All countries ‘dangerously unprepared’ for future pandemics, says IFRC
All countries ‘dangerously unprepared’ for future pandemics, says IFRC
WHO remains on high alert; US to end COVID-19 emergency May 11
GENEVA — The world is “dangerously unprepared” for future pandemics, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) say in a report published on Monday, calling on countries to update their preparedness plans by year-end.
In its World Disasters Report 2022, the IFRC said “all countries remain dangerously unprepared for future outbreaks” despite coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) killing more people than any earthquake, drought or hurricane in history.
“The next pandemic could be just around the corner. If the experience of COVID-19 won’t quicken our steps toward preparedness, what will?” said Jagan Chapagain, secretary general of the IFRC, the world’s largest disaster response network.
“There will be no excuse for a continued lack of preparedness after having gone through three terrible years.”
The report said that countries should review their legislation to ensure it is in line with their pandemic preparedness plans by the end of 2023 and adopt a new treaty and revised International Health Regulations by next year that would invest more in the readiness of local communities.
It also recommended that countries increase domestic health finance by 1% of gross domestic product and global health finance by at least $15 billion per year, which Mr. Chapagain described as a “good investment to make.”
“The important thing is there has to be a political will to commit to that,” he said. “If it is there, it’s possible.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that COVID-19 continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern, its highest form of alert.
The pandemic was likely in a “transition point” that continues to need careful management to “mitigate the potential negative consequences,” the agency added in a statement.
It is three years since the WHO first declared that COVID represented a global health emergency. More than 6.8 million people have died during the outbreak, which has touched every country on Earth, ravaging communities and economies.
However, the advent of vaccines and treatments has changed the pandemic situation considerably since 2020, and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said he hopes to see an end to the emergency this year, particularly if access to the counter-measures can be improved globally.
“We remain hopeful that in the coming year, the world will transition to a new phase in which we reduce (COVID) hospitalizations and deaths to their lowest possible level,” Mr. Ghebreyesus told a separate WHO meeting on Monday.
Advisers to the WHO expert committee on the pandemic’s status told Reuters in December that it was likely not the moment to end the emergency given the uncertainty over the wave of infections in China after it lifted its strict zero-COVID measures at the end of 2022.
US TO DECLARE END OF COVID EMERGENCY
Meanwhile, in Washington, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s administration on Monday said it will end COVID-19 emergency declarations on May 11, nearly three years after the United States imposed sweeping pandemic measures to curb the spread of the illness.
The COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency (PHE) were put in place in 2020 by then-President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Biden has repeatedly extended the measures, which allow millions of Americans to receive free tests, vaccines and treatments.
The White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a statement the declarations, which were set to expire in the coming months, would be extended again until May 11 and then terminated.
“This wind-down would align with the Administration’s previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the PHE,” OMB said in an administration policy statement.
The government has been paying for COVID-19 vaccines, some tests and certain treatments under the PHE declaration. When it expires, those costs will be transferred to private insurance and government health plans.
PHE’s expiration will also end directives, known as Title 42, that expel migrants from Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti caught crossing the US-Mexico border back to Mexico, OMB said.
OMB said in a separate statement that Mr. Biden would veto a proposed bill in the US Congress that would eliminate COVID-19 vaccine mandates for healthcare providers working on certain federal programs.
COVID-19 cases are declining in the United States, though more than 500 people continue to die each day from the disease, government data showed. — Reuters