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Ignoring pandemic experts proves fatal

Cartoon of Trump drinking from a bottle
Source: Independent Australia

Queensland, AUSTRALIA — Prior to this pandemic, there has been a long-held view in these same countries that only fragile states and low-income countries will fail during a pandemic, and would need benevolent assistance from high-income countries. This is best reflected in the 2019 Global Health Security Index (GHSI), launched a few months prior to the pandemic and ranking the U.S. number one in preparedness.

Low-income countries which have controlled COVID-19 well – such as Vietnam and Samoa – were ranked  50 and 162 respectively. Samoa simply closed its international borders — something which the World Health Organisation (WHO)continued to insist should not be done. Border closure is also the secret to the success of New Zealand and Australia in keeping their countries relatively COVID-free.

The state of the pandemic in the U.S., UK and Europe shows that money, technical know-how and scientific knowledge do not guarantee good pandemic control. Culture, leadership, appropriate experts informing policy decisions and the willingness of the public to follow expert advice matters too.

Countries which share these characteristics have done better — ranging from communist states such as China and Vietnam to small pacific islands like Samoa, to democracies such as Australia and New Zealand. In these countries, the pandemic was brought under control with routine evidence-based public health measures such as border closure, case finding, contact tracing, quarantine, social distancing and lockdown.

Civic mindedness and trust in government have also proven to be of major importance in pandemic control.  Australians and New Zealanders tend to trust the government and largely followed public health orders. In contrast, there has been resistance to public health orders in the U.S. and UK.

We have seen the dire outcomes of poor leadership in the U.S., where leaders have peddled unscientific theories, deadly miracle cures and actively discouraged public health interventions such as masks and social distancing, fanning mistrust. This has resulted in basic public health measures such as masks and vaccines being politicised and seen as symbols of oppression in the U.S. The lasting damage and mistrust will also make high vaccination coverage rates and herd immunity much harder to achieve in the U.S.

Pandemic control requires appropriate expert advisors with epidemic control experience to lead control efforts. Yet public health is invisible compared to clinical medicine and political leaders may fail to appreciate the importance of getting proper expert advice. 

Read more at Independent Australia