Experts at Abu Dhabi forum unpack the lessons of COVID-19 pandemic

Special Patients breath with the help of oxygen masks inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a COVID-19 ward in New Delhi on April 27, 2021. (AFP)
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Patients breath with the help of oxygen masks inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a COVID-19 ward in New Delhi on April 27, 2021. (AFP)
Special A patient rests inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a Covid-19 coronavirus ward in New Delhi on April 27, 2021. (AFP)
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A patient rests inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a COVID-19 coronavirus ward in New Delhi on April 27, 2021. (AFP)
Special A COVID-19 coronavirus patient is moved out of a hospital to recover at home in New Delhi on April 24, 2021. (AFP)
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A COVID-19 coronavirus patient is moved out of a hospital to recover at home in New Delhi on April 24, 2021. (AFP)
Special A COVID-19 coronavirus patient breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, under a tent installed along a roadside in Ghaziabad on April 28, 2021. (AFP)
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A COVID-19 coronavirus patient breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, under a tent installed along a roadside in Ghaziabad on April 28, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 04 October 2021

Experts at Abu Dhabi forum unpack the lessons of COVID-19 pandemic

Experts at Abu Dhabi forum unpack the lessons of COVID-19 pandemic
  • World Policy Conference panel calls out governments for being underprepared for COVID-19 havoc
  • Recommendations made to ensure future pandemics are better handled or stopped in their tracks

ABU DHABI, UAE / BOGOTA, Colombia: The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted societies the world over, exposing not only the vulnerabilities of national economies, supply chains and health infrastructure, but also the deep social inequities within and among nations.

Experts had long warned the world was woefully underprepared for a pandemic, lacking the necessary preparedness, surveillance, alert systems, early response infrastructure and leadership to prevent a global outbreak.

“The world was not prepared,” Michel Kazatchkine, former executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said at the World Policy Conference (WPC) in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

“All the public health officials, experts, previous international commissions and review committees had warned of the potential of a new pandemic and urged for robust preparations since the first outbreak of SARS.




Relatives carry the body of a person killed by COVID-19 amid burning pyres of other victims at a cremation ground in New Delhi on April 26, 2021. (AFP file photo)

Instead, governments have spent the past year and a half playing catch-up, squabbling over limited supplies of medical and protective equipment, implementing inconsistent containment measures, and jealously guarding their health data.

During that time, more than 235 million cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported worldwide and nearly 5 million people have died. At its peak in 2020, half of the world was in lockdown and 90 percent of children were missing out on their education.

Economists estimate that the pandemic will have cost the world economy roughly $10 trillion in output by the end of 2021 — just a fraction of which could have been spent on containing or preventing the pandemic from happening in the first place.

“COVID-19 took large parts of the world by surprise,” Kazatchkine said. “National pandemic preparedness has been vastly underfunded despite the clear evidence that the cost is a fraction of the cost of responses and losses incurred when a pandemic actually occurs.”

In May this year, the Independent Panel on Pandemic Preparedness and Response identified weak links at every link in the chain. It found that preparation was inconsistent and underfunded, while the alert system “was too slow and too meek.”

It said that governments failed to deliver a rapid or coordinated response when the World Health Organization declared that the outbreak constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Jan. 30, 2020. Indeed, most only responded when infections began to rise.

INNUMBERS

4.81 million: Worldwide COVID-19 deaths as of Oct. 3, 2021.

$4 trillion: Global GDP loss (2020 & 2021) due to COVID-19 (UNCTAD).

$2.4 trillion: Tourism sector’s loss in 2020 alone (UNCTAD).

The IPPR report also concluded that the WHO had not been granted sufficient powers to respond to the crisis — a disaster that was further exacerbated by a distinct lack of political leadership.

To explore whether governments could have handled the pandemic better and what lessons might be drawn to help prevent future outbreaks, Kazatchkine chaired a WPC panel discussion titled “Health as a Global Governance Issue: Lessons from COVID-19 Pandemic.”

During the session, the panelists laid out four key recommendations for governments and multilateral organizations to take on board to ensure future pandemics are better handled or stopped in their tracks. Their conclusions will be discussed at a special session of the World Health Assembly in November.




An expert panel at the World Policy Conference in Abu Dhabi has provided four key recommendations to boost global health equality and preparedness as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim lives. AFP

Their first recommendation concerned the establishment of a new financing mechanism to invest in preparedness and inject funds immediately at the onset of a potential pandemic. This would help to prevent a repeat of the widespread dithering seen among governments in late 2019 and early 2020.

Their second recommendation called for a standing, pre-negotiated, multilateral platform to produce vaccines, medical diagnostic tools and supplies for rapid and equitable delivery as essential common global goods.

This would help address the shocking inequalities seen in the world’s supply chains, whereby whole regions suffered extreme shortages of cleaning chemicals, personal protection equipment and medical oxygen for hospitals, and has led to a situation where many rich countries are approaching full vaccination while several of the poorest have inoculated barely 5 percent of their populations.




A traditional chief in Ivory Coast receives a vaccine against COVID-19 at a mobile vaccination center in Abidjan on Sept.23, 2021. (REUTERS/File Photo)

“When the COVID-19 pandemic began, two things became very obvious to those of us on the African continent,” Juliette Tuakli, CEO of CHILDAccra Medical and chair of the board of trustees at United Way Worldwide, told the WPS panel.

“One was that the West had huge capacity but little strategy, and we in Africa had a lot of strategy and little capacity. The second thing that was obvious was the importance of health as a national strategic asset within our economies.

“The pandemic highlighted health inequities that are ongoing, (plus) weaknesses in our systems such as (shortages). As well as the weak regional and domestic financing systems for procuring appropriate medications and vaccines, (not to speak of the prevalence) of very insidious health regulatory policies throughout the continent.

“Looking at the global stage, it’s important that we not just partner with other groups and agencies but that we have equal status within those relationships. There has to be some equity in our partnerships, here on, in terms of health and health governance, for us to be part of the solution, not just part of the problem.”




A woman prepares to receive a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a school in Pattani, Thailand, on August 10, 2021. (AFP photo)

The WPC panel’s third recommendation called for strengthening and empowering the WHO to oversee and even grade nations on their preparedness for future outbreaks, to have greater control over vaccination campaigns, and to assume more overall leadership.

“Too many governments lacked solid preparedness plans, core public health capacities, organized multi-sectoral coordination and clear commitment from leadership. And this is not a matter of wealth,” Kazatchkine said.

“I believe that COVID-19 has shaken some of our standard assumptions that a country’s wealth will secure its health. Actually, leadership and competence may have counted for more than cash when it comes to responding to COVID-19.”

Finally, the experts recommended the establishment of global health-threat councils at the level of heads of state and government to ensure both political commitment and accountability in fighting and preventing pandemics, elevating such threats to the level of terrorism, climate change and nuclear proliferation.




Governments should look at health strategically, invest in the right equipment, have the right drugs, and secure their supply chain, says WPC forum panelist Jean Kramarz. (AFP file photo)

“It should be treated like a military topic — to invest in health well in advance to face a crisis,” said Jean Kramarz, director of healthcare activities at AXA Partners Group.

“If health is strategic, it means that governments should overinvest in health to make sure that they have the right equipment, they have the right drugs, they have secured their supply chain, and it should be done permanently. It should be a topic of national interest.”

While experts in health and good governance ponder the lessons of the pandemic with a view to improving readiness for the next major outbreak, medical professionals are still fighting the crisis at hand. An array of aggressive virus variants, overstretched ICU facilities and sluggish vaccination campaigns are keeping the rate of infection stubbornly high.

“The pandemic is not yet over,” Kazatchkine said. “As we speak, over 400,000 new cases and 10,000 deaths are reported globally every day. Current hotspots are the US, Brazil, India, followed by the UK, Turkey, the Philippines and Russia.

“National responses across the world span from the complete lifting of restrictions in Denmark to new statewide lockdowns in Australia and a growing political and public-health crisis in the US.

“Where the number of infections increases, we see again unsustainable pressure on the health care system and on health care workers. So, the bottom line here is that the pandemic remains a global emergency and the future remains uncertain.”


17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities

17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities
Updated 7 sec ago

17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities

17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities
BEIJING: A fire at a restaurant in northeastern China on Wednesday killed 17 people and injured three, according to local authorities.
The blaze broke out at 12:40 pm in an eatery in the city of Changchun, the local government said in a statement posted on the Weibo social media platform.

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8
Updated 22 min 14 sec ago

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8
  • Japan PM Kishida Fumio asked Morocco to cooperate with Japan in the future

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio said that Morocco’s decision to not participate in the 8th TICAD Summit was “regrettable” during a meeting on Wednesday with the Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch.

Kishida stated that he would like to obtain the cooperation of Akhannouch in order to promote the entry of Japanese companies into Morocco and also asked the Moroccan side to cooperate with Japan in the future, including on TICAD events.

In addition, Kishida said that Morocco’s ammonium phosphate is important for the stable supply of fertilizers and that he looked forward to Morocco’s constructive response on the matter.

The two leaders also exchanged views on international issues and resolved to continue working closely together in dealing with the food security risks.

Akhannouch expressed his heartfelt condolences on the passing of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and stated that he would like to further strengthen the cooperative relationship that the two countries have built over many years in a wide range of fields.

Kishida expressed his gratitude to Akhannouch for attending Abe’s state funeral and said that the two countries have enjoyed good relations for many years based on the friendship between the imperial and royal families.


Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM
Updated 28 September 2022

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM
  • Kishida stated that Japan should refrain from any unilateral measures that go against the peace process

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday reiterated his support for a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian problem during a “candid exchange of views” with former Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Rami Hamdallah in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Kishida stated that Japan should refrain from any unilateral measures that go against the peace process and said he would like to continue contributing to the improvement of the environment for the progress of peace in the Middle East.

Japan’s PM also expressed his support for Palestine’s economic self-reliance through food assistance of more than $8 million – which was provided in response to the deterioration of food security in Palestine as a result of the situation in Ukraine – and the “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity” initiative promoted by Japan. Hamdallah expressed his gratitude for Japan’s support. 

Hamdallah conveyed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ condolences on the passing of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Kishida expressed his gratitude for the condolences sent by Palestinian officials.

Both sides agreed to continue to develop the relationship between Japan and Palestine.

This article was originally published on Arab News Japan.


India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’

India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’
Updated 28 September 2022

India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’

India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’
  • The Popular Front of India denies involvement in extremist activity
  • Police have arrested more than 300 PFI cadres in raids across the country since Friday

NEW DELHI: India banned an Islamist group and its affiliates for five years on Wednesday over alleged terrorism links, after a nationwide crackdown that saw hundreds of the organization’s members arrested.
A government notice said the Popular Front of India (PFI) had been outlawed for its ties to extremist organizations, including the Daesh group, and for violent attacks attributed to its members.
The PFI denies involvement in extremist activity and says it is the subject of a “witch hunt” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
Police have arrested more than 300 PFI cadres in raids across the country since Friday.
A home affairs ministry statement announcing the ban outlined a laundry list of charges accusing the group of violent and subversive activities.
Members had engaged in “cold-blooded killings of persons associated with organizations espousing other faiths, obtaining explosives to target prominent people and places and destruction of public property,” Wednesday’s notice said.
The ministry said PFI members had been responsible for at least 10 murders in southern India since 2016 and accused the group of “pursuing a secret agenda” to radicalize society and undermine democracy.
Hard-line Hindu groups have long campaigned for a ban on PFI, which is estimated to have tens of thousands of members around India.
Calls to outlaw the organization have grown in recent months after several Muslim-led protests against the government.
The group was accused of organizing street rallies against a state ban on the wearing of hijabs by Muslim school students in Karnataka, which resulted in violent confrontations between protesters and Hindu activists.
Modi’s government has been accused of clamping down on dissent and promoting discriminatory policies toward the country’s 200-million-strong Muslim minority since coming to power in 2014.
Actions against the PFI were “a conscious attempt by the Modi government to spread Islamophobia among the public and demonize Muslims as a community,” CPIML Liberation, a communist political party in India, wrote on Twitter.
But the PFI has been implicated in violent attacks before, with 13 members jailed in 2015 for hacking off the hand of a university lecturer accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
Wednesday’s ministry notice said some PFI activists had joined Islamic State and participated in terror activities in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
It also linked the PFI to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), an extremist group that carried out several bombing attacks in India’s eastern neighbor in 2005 that left at least 28 dead.


UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan
Updated 28 September 2022

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan
  • UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity

UNITED NATIONS: A senior UN official warned Tuesday of a possible internal conflict and worsening poverty in Afghanistan if the Taliban don’t respond quickly to the needs of all elements of society, saying their crackdown on the rights of girls and women signals indifference to over 50 percent of Afghanistan’s population and a willingness to risk international isolation.
Markus Potzel, the UN deputy representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council some of the Taliban’s “claimed and acknowledged achievements” are also eroding.
He pointed to a steady rise in armed clashes, criminal activity and high profile terrorist attacks especially by the Islamic State extremist group which demonstrated in recent months that it can carry out assassinations of figures close to the Taliban, attack foreign embassies, fire rockets against Afghanistan’s neighbors — and maintain their longstanding campaign against Shia Muslims and ethnic minorities.
Potzel said the economic situation also “remains tenuous,” with food security worsening and winter approaching.
The UN humanitarian appeal for $4.4 billion has only received $1.9 billion which is “alarming,” he said, urging donors to immediately provide $614 million to support winter preparations and an additional $154 million to preposition essential supplies before places get cut off by winter weather.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity. And “we worry” that the figures will soon become worse because winter weather will send already high fuel and food prices skyrocketing, he said.
While there have been some positive developments in Afghanistan in recent months, Potzel said, they have been too few, too slow, “and are outweighed by the negatives, “in particular, the ongoing ban on secondary education for girls — unique in the world — and growing restrictions on women’s rights.”
When the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women and girls were subject to overwhelming restrictions — no education, no participation in public life, and women were required to wear the all-encompassing burqa.
Following the Taliban ouster by US forces in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, and for the next 20 years, Afghan girls were not only enrolled in school but universities, and many women became doctors, lawyers, judges, members of parliament and owners of businesses, traveling without face coverings.
After the Taliban overran the capital on Aug. 15, 2021 as US and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years, they promised a more moderate form of Islamic rule including allowing women to continue their education and work outside the home.
They initially announced no dress code though they also vowed to impose Sharia, or Islamic law. But Taliban hard-liners have since turned back the clock to their previous harsh rule, confirming the worst fears of human rights activists and further complicating Taliban dealings with an already distrustful international community.
Potzel said that in UN discussions with Taliban officials, leaders state that the decision has been made and is maintained by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, “defended by hard-liners around him, but questioned by most of the rest of the movement who are either unable or unwilling to change the trajectory.”
The result, he said, is that women and girls are relegated to their home, deprived of their rights, and “Afghanistan as a whole is denied the benefit of the significant contributions that women and girls have to offer.”
“If the Taliban do not respond to the needs of all elements of Afghan society and constructively engage within the very limited window of opportunity with the international community, it is unclear what would come next,” Potzel said.
“Further fragmentation, isolation, poverty, and internal conflict are scenarios, leading to potential mass migration and a domestic environment conducive to terrorist organizations, as well as greater misery for the Afghan population,” he said.