Despite efforts to break the global cycle of panic and neglect seen throughout multiple disease outbreaks, Covid-19 has shown that the world was “woefully under prepared”, according to the UN health agency chief.

Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) and World Bank set up the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) two years ago to break the cycle, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a media press briefing that “reviews and reports are only as good as the recommendations that are implemented”. He added that Covid-19 has shown that collectively, the world was woefully under prepared. 

Since the turn of the millennium, SARS, MERS, H1N1, Zika and Ebola have all demonstrated the increasing occurrences of viruses making the zoonotic leap from animals to humans – and most recently, Covid-19. 

Developing “muscle memory is key to pandemic response”, according to the WHO chief, who cited how Thailand drew from its experience with SARS and H5N1 to swiftly scale up an effective track-and-trace system, leaving them among the least affected nations in the world by the pandemic. “The whole world must do this to strengthen preparedness,” he added.

While acknowledging certain novel viruses and unknown diseases in the future, the WHO chief said “the only way” to confront these global threats is “as a global community, united in solidarity and committed to long-term co-operation”. He claimed that the right political and financial commitment and investment now could prevent and mitigate future pandemics.

WHO is asking leaders to “put targeted measures in place” to suppress the spread and protect health systems and workers. And the UN agency is also requesting everyone “continue to do the basics”, including maintaining physical distance, washing hands, wearing masks, avoiding crowds and keeping windows and doors open when outside visits are impossible.