Why did the world’s pandemic warning system fail when COVID hit?

Still, a one-week lag in declaring a global emergency isn’t even the most concerning action that took place in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, critics say. When Tedros declared the PHEIC, he advised governments to move fast with public-health measures including tests and social distancing. He also asked them to resist bans on travel and trade because, historically, they are of limited utility and are potentially harmful.

But governments around the world ignored those calls. For example, the United States did not roll out testing across the country until late February; did not bar large gatherings until March; ditched contact-tracing; and banned some travel from China, where the virus was first discovered.

Countries appear to agree that to improve the world’s ability to respond to pandemics, the WHO should be transformed and bolstered. Speaking as a representative of the United States, infectious-disease scientist Anthony Fauci told the WHO this week that the country will reverse its withdrawal from the organization, initiated by former president Donald Trump, and “work constructively with partners to strengthen and importantly reform the WHO”.