Some two years after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, COVID-19 and the successive emergence of variants of concern continue to put the global community, and every nation, under significant stress. The report Unprecedented & Unfinished: COVID-19 and Implications for National and Global Policy seeks to support the shift in thinking that is required to achieve a more comprehensive ‘worldview’ of pandemics and similar emergencies. It presents tools to map policy domains and scenarios and to observe interactions over approximately a five-year timeline. The lessons outline actions to be taken around an emergency such as a pandemic, both before and after, as well as beyond the sectors of health.
“We must not take a narrow view of the pandemic or minimize its impacts beyond public health, otherwise inequities will grow, and the broader consequences will be felt in every society in every country. To ensure a resilient and more equitable future, we must find ways that embolden effective international collaboration in addressing global threats. Additionally, the report aims to assist all governments in exploring appropriate responses in the broad interests of all their citizens and societies.”Peter Gluckman, President of the International Science Council
“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the value of international scientific cooperation, even in the face of cascading environmental risks and geopolitical tensions. We must renew efforts to build a multilateral system that addresses inequalities while preparing us for the next crisis. Whether it be another pandemic, climate change, or conflict, we have the chance to learn from the last two years. If not, the Sustainable Development Goals will slip out of reach.”Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction
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Unprecedented & Unfinished: Key Messages
1. The pandemic has affected every society and is truly a global crisis.
- Policymakers have focused predominantly on national solutions. However, a global crisis requires global and regional cooperation and solutions, in addition to well-thought-through national and local responses.
2. COVID-19 is not only a health crisis.
- The pandemic has widened global inequalities, in terms of health, economics, development, science and technology, and has exacerbated inequalities in society itself.
3. COVID’s long echo will continue into the future and requires a coordinated global response which we are currently lacking.
- We are currently not prioritizing policies to improve fundamental government services such as public health system capacity, the provision of care for vulnerable populations, the state of education systems, and access to mental health services.
- Further critical factors include the spread of misinformation – particularly on social media –, geopolitical opportunism, poor access to capital markets for low- and middle-income nations, the weakening of the multilateral system, and loss of progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
- The world needs reinvigorated global cooperation, guided and based on scientific evidence, particularly around health and science.
Unprecedented & Unfinished: Key Recommendations
- Global cooperation is essential as a core component of seeking remedies and ongoing protection. Shortcomings in the current multilateral system need to be reformed, both to continue to navigate the impact of COVID-19 and other potential risks related to climate change, geopolitical tensions, food security, and more.
- To address widening global inequalities, governments must leverage the pandemic to reset focus on equitable distribution of the benefits of the hoped-for economic recovery. This includes recognizing the importance of inclusive governance, ensuring the supply of medical resources to developing countries, closing the digital divide in education, and mitigating social isolation arising from the pandemic.
- Governments must review and reframe the way they assess risk, integrating it more formally into policy development. Governments need to take a systems approach to planning for risk, considering interconnected risks and consequences.
- Governments must prioritize building and maintaining trust, helping strengthen societal cohesion, and foster cooperation and resilience. Community engagement should be a central activity in preparedness plans for pandemics, with a diversity of views heard.
- There is a need to address the challenges of disinformation, and to strengthen pluralistic science advice systems to increase trust in science, thereby protecting societies from risks.
- There is a need to invest in research and development for the public good. As a part of this, the UN should develop a more integrated approach to science, including an agreed UN scientific mechanism, so that challenges can be overcome by working toward common goals.
- The need for policy learnings at the local, regional, national and international level must be increased. This includes sourcing multiple kinds of data and knowledge to learn what precipitated events and what went wrong, in order to develop better mechanisms to address future risks.
Image: A general view shows Serbian military personal setting up beds inside a hall at the Belgrade Fair to accommodate people suffering from mild symptoms of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on March 24, 2020.
Image credit: Vladimir Zivojinovic / AFP