Covid-19 Pandemic: 21st Century’s ‘Chernobyl Moment’

Kamilla Sorskar Engen, International Law and Affairs Officer

11 May 2021

The purpose of the report, compiled by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, was to figure out how the virus had killed 3.3 million people and infected over 159 million, globally. This is the first major independent review of the global health crisis and was co-chaired by Helen Clark (former Prime Minister of New Zealand) and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (former President of Liberia). It concluded that the international health system, led by the WHO, is ‘clearly unfit’ to stop another outbreak and requires radical reform.

The pandemic is the 21st Century’s ‘Chernobyl moment’ in the wake of the international community’s inability to prevent another pandemic, and in its hesitation to take action in February 2020 while the virus spread, wasting valuable time. Co-chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told reporters: "The situation we find ourselves in today could have been prevented. It is due to a myriad of failures, gaps and delays in preparedness and response."

One of the arguments made by the panel was that the WHO’s Emergency Committee should have declared the outbreak in China an international emergency at its first meeting on 22 January 2020 rather than waiting until 30 January. The following month was ‘lost’ as governments failed to take action to prevent the virus from spreading. Additionally, travel restrictions should not have been a last resort for governments as is found in the WHO’s regulations. Rather, as co-chair Helen Clark noted, “If travel restrictions had been imposed more quickly, more widely, again that would have been a serious inhibition on the rapid transmission of the disease.”

Key reforms were proposed to prevent another pandemic, and to strengthen and empower the WHO:
• Creation of a new global threats council with the power to hold countries accountable
• A disease surveillance system to publish information without the approval of countries concerned
• Vaccines to be classed as public goods, and a pandemic financing facility
• A request for the G7 nations to commit $1.9bn (£1.3bn) to the WHO's Covax programme providing vaccine support to low-income countries

Finally, it calls for heads of state and government to adopt a political declaration under the auspices of the UN General Assembly to commit to these reforms at a global summit.

Read the report here:

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