Hayward – Top Medical Journal: World Governments ‘Untrustworthy and Ineffective’ During Pandemic

Health workers in protective gear walk out from a blocked off area after spraying disinfec
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A commission assembled by the renowned British medical journal Lancet to examine worldwide responses to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic issued a scathing report on Wednesday, blasting governments around the globe for exposing themselves as “untrustworthy and ineffective.”

“Too many governments have failed to adhere to basic norms of institutional rationality and transparency, too many people — often influenced by misinformation — have disrespected and protested against basic public health precautions, and the world’s major powers have failed to collaborate to control the pandemic,” the Lancet “Covid-19″ [Chinese coronavirus] Commission wrote, hurling criticism in every direction.

The commission mourned the estimated 17.2 million worldwide deaths from the Wuhan coronavirus as a “profound tragedy and a massive global failure at multiple levels.”

One of the report’s major complaints is that few government tallies of deaths and infections can be trusted, so estimates from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) had to be used.

The first two failures highlighted by the report were “the lack of timely notification of the initial outbreak of [Chinese coronavirus]” and “costly delays in acknowledging the crucial airborne exposure pathway,” both which can be squarely laid at the feet of the Chinese Communist Party and its enablers.

The Lancet commission bent over backwards to soften its criticism of the Chinese central government, however, making very generous allowances for the possibility that local officials dropped the ball in the early months of the pandemic, without Beijing’s knowledge:

There is currently no evidence that the Chinese central government in Beijing knew of the outbreak in Wuhan until late December, 2019. There seems to have been reticence in reporting the initial outbreak to the national authorities, as records of the initial outbreak remained among local Wuhan authorities. The early outbreak in Wuhan coincided with the Chinese Lunar New Year, involving extensive travel within China and large gatherings of people, which in turn could have facilitated the early spread of the virus to other parts of China and to other countries. By Jan 23, 2020, when China initiated its highly effective lockdown of Hubei Province, the virus was spreading around the world.

Women wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk under red lanterns hanging along an alley near the Houhai Lake in celebration of the Lunar New Year in Beijing, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. China appeared to be on pace for a slower than normal Lunar New Year travel rush this year after authorities discouraged people from traveling over the holiday to help maintain the nation's control over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Women wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk under red lanterns hanging along an alley near the Houhai Lake in celebration of the Lunar New Year in Beijing, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

The report criticized the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) for hesitating too long to “recommend a more precautionary approach to travel from China,” but did not dwell upon China’s extremely vigorous efforts to thwart travel bans until the Chinese coronavirus became a worldwide problem. China, of course, did not hesitate in the slightest to impose its own travel bans when it grew concerned about infections from beyond its borders.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JUNE 01: A passenger wearing protective equipment wheels his luggage to a check-in counter at Istanbul Airport on June 01, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey. As infection rates of the coronavirus continue to drop and after more than a month of weekend lockdowns, Turkey has begun reopening procedures, allowing bars, restaurants and cafes to open under new restrictions for the first time since March 17. Limited domestic flights have restarted and the stay-at-home curfew for citizens under 20 and over 65 has been eased. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

A passenger wearing protective equipment wheels his luggage to a check-in counter at Istanbul Airport on June 01, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

The Lancet report urged further investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, a somewhat pointless endeavor given China’s obfuscations, and did not rule out either laboratory or zoonotic origins for the pathogen.


A man wears a mask while walking in the street on January 22, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. (Getty Images)

A soft touch with China might have been taken because the Lancet commission strongly urged greater international cooperation as a key element of future pandemic response, and China makes no secret of its willingness to withdraw from any program that holds it responsible for the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. 

The Commission issued a blanket denunciation of world governments for failing to coordinate with each other on “suppression strategies” and failing to “examine evidence and adopt best practices for controlling the pandemic,” or to manage the “economic and social” fallout from the pandemic.

W.H.O. chief

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), addresses a press conference about the update on COVID-19 at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, February 24, 2020. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

The Lancet commission advised more power and funding for international response agencies like W.H.O. as the remedy for these issues, which would help to explain why W.H.O.’s response to the report on Thursday was highly positive, even though the U.N. health agency was sternly criticized in several passages of the report.

A DC Under Siege protester and a Black Lives Matter activist argue in front Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's vandalized home on January 2, 2021, in Louisville, Kentucky. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

A D.C. Under Siege protester and a Black Lives Matter activist argue in front Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s vandalized home on January 2, 2021, in Louisville, Kentucky. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

“W.H.O. welcomes the Commission’s endorsement of a pandemic agreement, strengthening the International Health Regulations (IHR), and enhancing financing. These issues are core to the vision of W.H.O. Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, as distilled in the five priorities for his second term,” said the World Health Organization’s response.

The problem with putting so much faith in transnational agencies is that aggressive powers like China can subvert them. The very fact that reports such as the one issued by the Lancet “Covid-19 Commission” must tread very lightly on Beijing’s sensibilities, because everyone knows China will immediately withdraw from any international body that criticizes it more harshly or holds it responsible for the pandemic, is evidence that building W.H.O. or any other agency into an authoritative, responsible, and reliable global first responder is far more difficult than it seems.

The Lancet Commission dismissed such critiques of W.H.O. out of hand, focusing its ire instead on national governments that allowed political imperatives to interfere with data collection and on purveyors of “disinformation” – a very loaded topic that could hardly be given a detailed review in such a relatively brief report.

The disinformation section of the report mostly castigates anyone who seriously challenged whatever the authorities were saying at any given time, praising authoritarian governments and high-obedience populations for keeping death rates low. 

“Greater trust in government” was cited as a factor in effectively implementing pandemic control strategies, an observation that might be best directed at the politicians who squandered so much of that trust before the Wuhan coronavirus arrived, and enjoy even less trust from the public after their pandemic lies and excesses.

It is astounding that the Lancet report could broach this topic without mentioning how the entire American political class endorsed the massive Black Lives Matter demonstrations and riots, with “health professionals” quite literally handing out free passes from pandemic restrictions because the BLM cause was deemed more important. The report did, however, set aside a few paragraphs to frown upon “public protests over Covid-19 restrictions.”

One passage in the report congratulated female-led countries for doing a better job at keeping fatality rates low than those led by men:

Leadership styles and public messaging have been instrumental in building trust and leveraging effective responses, and we note that the gender of political leaders seems to have had a role in the rhetoric, with women leaders more often concerned than male leaders about individual-scale effects and social welfare. A rather small group of governments, many led by women, kept death rates much lower than in other countries.

The report looked very favorably upon lockdown strategies and mask mandates, castigating national leaders who “made highly irresponsible statements in the first few months of the outbreak, neglecting scientific evidence and needlessly risking lives with a view to keeping the economy open.” However, the authors were very concerned about the damage to children caused by long-term school closures.

Likewise, all criticism of vaccines was dismissed as “anti-science rhetoric and disinformation,” but no such opprobrium was directed at false statements or exaggerated claims made in favor of vaccination.

The Lancet Commission’s recommendations included advice for securing higher levels of cooperation with pandemic control strategies that read uncomfortably like an endorsement of lying to the public for its own good because questioning authority is inherently dangerous:

Motivations for behavior change include self-interest, belief in the effectiveness and feasibility of behaviors, and reducing aversive emotions. Capability includes knowing exactly what to do, when, and why, and is closely linked to health literacy. Desired behavior will not occur with motivation and capability if people do not have the opportunity – both physical (eg, easy access to vaccines and financial resources to self-isolate) and social (eg, normative influences to wear face masks). Health and safety cultures relating to infectious diseases should be built into societies, embedding risk assessment and management into everyday life to maintain behaviors.

The bottom line is that developing a trustworthy and efficient pandemic response system, one with global reach and the ability to intervene at the source of incipient pandemics, is a great idea. Countries around the world lack the level of public trust required to make such a response system work – and it is not entirely the fault of the public that it lacks such trust.


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