Pandemic Preparedness and Response: Global Perspectives on COVID-19

The Meridian 5: Global Response to COVID-19

1. COVID-19 KNOWS NO BORDERS. "We're all in this together, and we can only stop it together," Ambassador John Lange said while discussing solutions to the current global health crisis during Meridian's first-ever virtual convening. To best combat the spread of the virus and prevent a repeat pandemic, it is imperative that each country commits to holistic, multilateral approaches when devising regulations. One way to ensure worldwide critical needs are met is to invest in existing mechanisms; new funds are being proposed each day, but the best bet for control is to invest in frameworks already put in place by the World Health Organization as well as the G7 and G20 Summits.

2. THE LAST 20 YEARS. As citizens around the world grapple with how governments and businesses are handling this seemingly unexpected crisis, it's important to note that the writing on the wall has been there for years, dating back to the 2002 SARS outbreak. 196 governments signed onto The International Health Regulations (IHR) in 2005, which includes specific measures at ports, airports and ground crossings to limit the spread of health risks to neighboring countries. Similarly, the GISAID Initiative promotes the international sharing of all influenza virus sequences and data to help researchers understand how the viruses evolve, spread and become pandemics. While no one could have explicitly seen the coronavirus coming, many knew a crisis of this scale was possible and worked for years to create methods for controlling a global outbreak.

3. COMPLEXITIES IN GLOBAL COOPERATION. Balancing national interests while maintaining a strong supply of necessary medical equipment gets complicated when the need to look beyond borders to prevent further spread of the virus increases daily. "In late December, we saw signs that we needed to ramp-up mask production in China," said Brittany Masalosalo, Head of International Affairs and Public Policy at 3M. Following the SARS outbreak, Masalosalo says 3M established surge capacity to ensure the appropriate quantities of high-demand supplies would be available should another global health emergency occur. Masalosalo referenced frustrating experiences in both Italy and Thailand, where she says new regulations have prevented 3M from sending millions of masks to people in need, meaning the regulations put in place to protect citizens could hurt them in the long run.

4. WHAT ABOUT THE ECONOMY? The economic impact of COVID-19 will undoubtedly be felt around the world for years to come, and His Excellency Ashok Mirpuri, Ambassador of the Republic of Singapore, suggested thinking strategically about travel advisories could be the key to keeping the global economy afloat. "Everyone put barriers up, the question is when to take them down. There is no off switch for COVID-19," he noted. Singapore had a firm grip on case tracking from the get-go, but the Pacific nation has been hit with a second wave of the virus despite the government's best efforts. Not only is it impacting the health of thousands, but Ambassador Mirpuri reported that there are currently no positive economic forecasts for the first half of the year.

5. PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE. If there's one thing global leaders can agree on, it's that all nations must band together to take concrete actions to ensure the world is ready if and when another outbreak or global emergency occurs. Furthermore, it is critical that global health officials are looking towards the next threat, not the last one, so that they are preparing an all-hazards approach. "My fundamental hope is that we use this terrible crisis as an opportunity to deal with short-term needs and build long-term health security capacity. After this is over, let's prepare for the next one," concluded Ambassador Lange.

To read more on Meridian's response to COVID-19, click here.

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