EDITORIAL: The hard lessons of COVID-19

One of the few good things that can come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, is to learn how to better prepare for the next one.

In Canada, we’re paying the price for governments of all stripes failing to learn the lessons of the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003, in which 44 Canadians died, and the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, in which 428 Canadians died.

Tragically, more Canadians will die from COVID-19 than SARS and H1N1 combined.

Primary among the lessons those previous two outbreaks should have taught our governments is the importance of stockpiling pandemic medical supplies and keeping them up to date.

Canada, along with many other countries, failed to do this.

The good news is many Canadian companies have responded to this need, proving we can manufacture pandemic supplies in our own country, instead of relying on other nations to do it for us.

Another area that bears scrutiny is the conduct of the United Nations’ World Health Organization during this pandemic.

It appears to have simply taken the word of China’s dictators that they had COVID-19 contained after it was traced in December to a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, a city of 11 million.

Because of that, critics of the WHO say, other countries let down their guards until it was too late.

While the WHO and its director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus repeatedly praised China’s response to the outbreak, we now know China was suppressing key information in the crucial early weeks of the global spread of COVID-19.

This included harassing Dr. Li Wenliang, a 34-year old ophthalmologist, who first warned that COVID-19 was capable of human-to-human transmission, which China’s government denied until it was too late. Li eventually died from COVID-19.

By the time Chinese authorities locked down Wuhan on Jan. 23 — again to praise from Ghebreyesus — it was too late, because the highly contagious coronavirus was already spreading across China and internationally, unknowingly carried by air travellers.

Critics of the WHO say China has too much influence in its decision-making, noting it supported Ghebreyesus when he was elected director general in 2017.

Whatever happened, the WHO’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic requires independent examination.

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