“Spain still does not have a plan in case the pandemic gets complicated again”

Toilets in a hospital in Pamplona. / EFE

Jeffrey Lazarus, one of the authors of The Lancet report on covid that charges the WHO and governments, regrets that the Executive does not contemplate a change in the pandemic scenario

Alvaro Soto

The devastating report published yesterday by The Lancet on the disastrous global management of the pandemic avoids pointing out the specific actions of the countries, but in Spain "many mistakes have been made, and continue to be made," explains epidemiologist Jeffrey Lazarus, co-director of the Viral and Bacterial Infections Program of the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and one of the 28 members of the Covid-19 Commission, the body of the prestigious scientific journal that has analyzed for the last two and a half years the performance of international institutions to deal with the health emergency.

In Spain, the decision to allow the calls for March 8, 2020 "was a mistake because there was already enough information about the virus to know that contagion could occur," says Lazarus. But the problem is not only in what should have been done in the past, but above all, in the decisions that the Executive has not made in the face of a possible worsening of the pandemic situation. «Before, it could be justified, but now it is indefensible. The Government still does not have a plan given the possibility that the pandemic scenario worsens. There is a plan for hepatitis, for example, but we do not know what we would do in the event of the emergence of new variants of SARS-CoV-2, an increase in severe cases or a new peak in hospitalizations due to the coronavirus, "says Lazarus.

This public health and virus specialist, who has carried out research in hospitals around the world and has worked at the World Health Organization, believes that the Spanish health authorities should take the communication of the pandemic seriously. “It is a shame that the vaccine website of the Ministry of Health (www.vacunacovid.gob.es/) is only updated until June 2021, more than a year ago. Although it contains a lot of information, it does not answer the key questions that citizens are now asking », he highlights. "You can't convince people to get vaccinated or to take action if they're not clearly informed," he argues.

Lazarus's criticisms fit the general tone of the Lancet document, which lambastes governments and international institutions. He accuses them of making a multitude of mistakes that turned the response to the pandemic into a "massive global failure", a chain of failures that covers multiple areas and that leaves a dramatic balance: more than 112,000 dead in Spain and 17 million worldwide. .

The authors of the research, who belong to the fields of public health, epidemiology, vaccinology or economics, cite up to ten major mistakes: the lack of notification of the initial outbreak; the delay in recognizing the airway (aerosols) as a "crucial" route of spread of the virus; the lack of coordination of the countries and the delay in applying measures to stop the spread of the virus; the inability of governments to adopt measures to stop the pandemic; the shortfall in financing poor countries; difficulties in ensuring an adequate global supply and equitable distribution of protective material, such as equipment, diagnostics, drugs or vaccines; the lack of accurate data on infections and deaths; the scant application of biosafety standards, which have fueled the possibility of outbreaks in laboratories; the impossibility of combating hoaxes about the virus; and the lack of global and national safety nets to protect vulnerable populations.

“Many governments have not respected the basic norms of rationality and institutional transparency, too many people - often influenced by misinformation - have protested against basic public health precautions and the main powers have not collaborated to control the pandemic”, summarizes Jeffrey Sachs , president of the Covid-19 Commission and professor at Columbia University (United States). "The staggering number of victims of the first two years of the covid-19 pandemic is a profound tragedy and an enormous social failure on multiple levels," recalls this expert, who calls for "taking collective action that promotes public health and sustainable development to end the pandemic, address global health inequalities, protect the world against future health emergencies, identify the origins of this pandemic, and build resilience for communities around the world.”

Experts at The Lancet believe that the failure of international institutions during the pandemic is summed up in the unfortunate role played by the World Health Organization (WHO). The document charges against this body, which it reproaches for the delay in recognizing that there was an asymptomatic transmission of the virus from person to person, in admitting airborne transmission, in advising the use of masks for the entire population or in declaring the virus as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, something that occurred on January 30, 2020, eight days after international experts requested it. "This loss of a week allowed a considerable global spread of the virus," underlines the text, which criticizes the WHO for not meeting, on multiple occasions, the requirements of specialists while choosing the option of temporizing. The World Health Organization must "reform" to deal with new health emergencies, the authors of the Lancet report ask.

But in an unusual statement, the WHO came out against the report and lamented that it is riddled with "key omissions" and "misinterpretations". "We repeatedly warned about the potential for asymptomatic transmission, even at the end of January (2020)," defends the body led by Tedros Ghebreyesus. Thus, the investigation "does not convey the full arc of the immediate, multi-year and life-saving response" of the United Nations agency, which rejects the accusations of delay and maintains that its recommendations were made under the protection of the experts. "From day one to today, we regularly update our guidance and strategies with the latest knowledge about the virus," he says.

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