Great Britain

One million Covid-19 deaths isn’t just a grim milestone – but an indictment of a short-sighted global response

One million global Covid-19 deaths is not just a dire milestone.  It is also an indictment of a short-sighted, fragmented, underpowered global response.  

We should also take it as a warning – that as therapeutic support in richer countries helps save lives, the dangers for poorer people and countries are multiplying.

This coronavirus pandemic represents a triple emergency.  There are obviously the health effects, both direct cause of illness and interruption of other health services.  

The economic collateral damage is the second emergency.  Countries like the UK are directing enormous firepower – including deficits of up to 20 per cent of GDP – to mitigate the damage, but the global effort to help poorer countries has been a fraction of this.  

It is clearly also a political emergency, as international institutions on which we all depend, like the World Health Organisation (WHO), are attacked, and the siren call of nationalism in a number of nations runs from treatment to vaccine.

Sink or swim is not a satisfactory message for the world’s bottom 2 billion people.  While wealthy nations have dedicated over $11 trillion (£8.5 trillion) to domestic Covid-19 responses, the UN Global Humanitarian Response Plan for Covid-19 remains woefully underfunded, with just $2.8bn pledged of $10bn needed. 

If every leader of a G20 country dedicated even a fraction of what they’ve invested domestically to global efforts, we might spot a light at the end of the tunnel. That would pay for personal protection equipment (PPE), hand-washing stations, fever testing, isolation centres – and real facts to counter disinformation that is present in all the places that NGOs like the International Rescue Committee (IRC), where I’m president and CEO, work.

The global recorded figures show the need for more to be done. The African continent has now surpassed one million cases, amid serious concerns of testing shortfalls; southeast Asia nearly 6.5 million; and finally the Americas, which now shoulder more than 50 per cent of the global caseload, with nearly 16 million cases and counting. 

But in truth there is just not enough testing to know the scope of the disease in large tracts of the world. The Democratic Republic of Congo has 100 million people and just over 60,000 tests. The test positivity rate in Yemen is over 30 per cent – because their testing system is virtually non-existent.

Britain has its own problems for the next six months, but as a member of the UN Security Council it needs a global perspective.  Syria has seen a more than 400 per cent jump in Covid-19 cases during the past eight weeks; Libya, a doubling of cases during the last four weeks and test positivity of 20 per cent; Lebanon has recorded a 500 per cent increase in cases since the Beirut blast. Meanwhile, in Mexico, there are 5,000 new cases per day and test positivity of a staggering 51 per cent.

Covid-19 is the first pandemic of the connected world.  It is a wake-up call, because it won’t be the last disaster that needs to be addressed. 

We need to fight it with renewed vigour, and learn the right lessons for the future.

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