THERESA ZETTL – PIOTR AZIA – BEN BURGERS
We are in the middle of the fourth wave of Covid-19. The United States and the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Poland, the Netherlands, Czechia and Belgium are being hit hard in this wave. Daily infection rates are hitting new records since the pandemic began 2 years ago. Luckily, the mortality is not as high as it used to be without the Covid-19 vaccine. However, the new variant omicron is a new challenge in the fight against Covid-19.
Have a pandemic plan that works
When Covid-19 hit hard with people dying shortly after getting infected during the first wave, it seemed like no country had a real plan on how to protect its citizens in case of a pandemic. Some countries shut down, others waited and waited, yet other ones took a hands off approach and didn’t do much to prevent infections (such as Sweden).
Hospitals soon started having problems with essential protective equipment such as masks, PPE suits, gloves and disinfectants. Stocks soon started running low and, frequently, hospitalsan out during the worst of the pandemic, with personnel getting infected and dying in alarming numbers. When essential protective equipment finally became available, prices had increased to unprecedented levels, frequently raising concerns about mismanagement and corruption in the aftermath. As is well-known, demand regulates the price. Remember when some countries ran out of ventilators? Ventilators were sent back and forth within the European Union to those places that needed them most. Few hospitals were prepared for a pandemic on such a scale – in terms of both medical equipment and medical personnel.Proposal: Any future plan must take into account the need to have capacities (hospital beds, equipment and staff!) available at short notice and in sufficient quantities.
Proposal: Any future plan must take into account the need to have capacities (hospital beds, equipment and staff!) available at short notice and in sufficient quantities.
Try to raise awareness for people’s responsibility
During a pandemic you do not only have responsibility for your own decisions, you also carry the responsibility for the people around you: Your family, your co-workers, your friends – actually for everyone, as you do not know whether their health may be exposed to high risk if infected. Each one of us is an important part of society and the way we act during a pandemic, may contribute to protect and save the life of many other people, just with simple measures like maintaining distances, wearing masks, getting vaccinated.
Anti-vaxxers tend to argue that getting vaccinated is their own decision. In a certain respect this is certainly correct. If you don’t want to get vaccinated against tetanus, for instance, this is your free decision. If you get infected through an open wound, you are not infectious to other people, therefore you only take responsibility for your own life. This is completely different from Covid-19. If you don’t get vaccinated, you can infect other people – especially those who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons, those who have reduced immunity and, above all, children, who are too young to be vaccinated. You are responsible for your own life, but you are also responsible for the lives of people you put in danger.
While on the subject of responsibility: If you do get infected, get into quarantine and help the local health authorities trace your contacts. Use Covid-19 warn apps to alert people you had contact with.
Proposal: be aware of and responsible for your own health needs, but also of the health of those around you and society at large – we all depend on each other, particularly in times of emergency. It’s up to governments, local authorities, schools to raise this awareness, to educate citizens that our survival depends on the whole of society, that nothing works when people only think of themselves.
Governments need to act more rapidly!
What we have experienced and seen with the Covid-19 pandemic is that those countries that were cautious and did not wait too long for taking early actions to keep their citizens safe and protected were those with fewest deaths. We would like to give you three examples:
Most likely due to its proximity to China, Taiwan but also its distrust in the relationship with the People’s Republic of China, was the country that responded fastest during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. When the World Health Organization (WHO) was notified of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019, Taiwanese officials began to board planes and assess passengers on direct flights from Wuhan for fever and pneumonia symptoms before they could get off planes. This was the first of a range of actions taken by Taiwan to combat COVID-19. Only 4 months later, by April 24th, Taiwan had less than 500 overall cases of infections and 6 deaths.
Taiwan also learned from SARS in 2003; even though SARS was contained before it could spread as far as SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), Taiwan was hit hard and already proposed measures for future pandemics, while the rest of the world may have thought this time that it would be contained again. This is an analysis of what Taiwan endured during SARS in 2003:
Was also among the first and early responders at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. On January 16th, 2020, the South Korean biotech executive Chun Jong-yoon directed his lab to work on a response to the critical development in China. Within days, detection kits were developed and in use for mass testing. More than 4 months later, by early May, South Korea had faced fewer than 12,000 cases and only 250 deaths.
New Zealand’s response came later but was still quick enough to significantly keep the infection numbers low and limit the pandemic’s spread. With only six cases, New Zealand announced on March 14th, 2020, that anyone entering the country had to self-isolate for two weeks. Only 9 days later, with 102 cases but no confirmed deaths, a lockdown was announced by the government. There had been only 19 Covid-19 deaths in New Zealand by April 27th, 2020.
How about travel restrictions?
It is thought that Covid-19 pandemic in Europe had its start in a bar in Bad Ischgl, Tyrolia and spread throughout Europe and left behind a trail of mass infections and a tremendous high number of deaths. Just recently we saw in the news that travelers from South Africa brought the omicron variant to the Netherlands. Do we need travel restrictions? International travel by trains or buses, planes or cruise ships certainly supports the rapid spread of pandemics. But: travel restrictions are only useful if we can be sure that there are no cases that can slip through the net, so it must be as close to airtight as possible. In our current situation, travel restrictions are too late, considering that the omicron variant has already been around for maybe a week. As soon as there are community transmissions (including between quarantined people), its usefulness is doubtful, as it causes problems that outweigh the benefits, negatively impacting trade and personal/family relations. If there are already community transmissions, passenger movements should be treated the same as going to a bar, restaurant or cinema – in an epidemic/pandemic situation the virus can be anywhere, whether in people’s homes or in airplanes. However, considering that travel restrictions are such a controversial issue, they should be treated separately, on merit, each time.
Stopping travel from Wuhan in time could have saved countless lives and trillions of €/$. reducing the number of people potentially infected circulating at the beginning, could have contributed to safety and to keep numbers down. However, once vaccines became available in quantity, the first criterion for using public transport and international travel should be proof of full vaccination. Vaccinated people can still carry the virus, but they are less likely to and they don’t get as sick or are as likely to die. For people who say: save the economy, the reply is: get everybody vaccinated, that will stop the pandemic AND save the economy.
Let’s not forget that, in December 2019-January 2020, we had more questions than answers about the pandemic. But one conclusion is obvious: countries that acted quickly and decisively to circumscribe the spread, enforced vigorously track and trace, enforcing strict isolation and travel restrictions, suffered far less than countries that adopted a wait and see approach, letting infections spread out of control, before taking action.
Does the WHO have a plan?
It does! Just recently on December 1st, 2021 there was an announcement:
“In a consensus decision aimed at protecting the world from future infectious diseases crises, the World Health Assembly today agreed to kickstart a global process to draft and negotiate a convention, agreement or other international instrument under the Constitution of the World Health Organization to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said the decision by the World Health Assembly was historic in nature, vital in its mission, and represented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen the global health architecture to protect and promote the well-being of all people.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the many flaws in the global system to protect people from pandemics: the most vulnerable people going without vaccines; health workers without needed equipment to perform their life-saving work; and ‘me-first’ approaches that stymie the global solidarity needed to deal with a global threat,” Dr Tedros said.” Read more here.
How can we prevent future pandemics?
On 7th December we were happy to welcome Dr. Saikat Basu from the South Dakota State University for a webinar on innovative solutions how we can prevent future pandemics.
Are you interested in more health topics?
We invite you to participate in our European Liberals for Reform working group Health. Both co-authors, Piotr Azia and Ben Burgers, are active members of this working group.
The opinions on this blog are of the authors themselves and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of ELfR.