Pandemic Seeing Only Some International Coordination
Analyst: Response ‘variable, with some regions doing better than others’
World leaders, from Donald Trump to Angela Merkel, are talking tough when it comes to combatting coronavirus. Yet while wartime terminology is being used from bully pulpits in global capitals, the reality is that the “invisible enemy” continues to claim more victims, both medically and economically.
As of Wednesday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in 180 countries and territories stood at over 877,420, with more than 44,150 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center.
In a sobering news conference held Tuesday, President Trump acknowledged that the next two weeks would be “very painful” in light of modeling showing that up to 240,000 Americans could die, even with stringent measures in place.
“Our strength will be tested, our endurance will be tried, but America will answer with love and courage and ironclad resolve,” Trump said.
As of Wednesday, the US death toll was just over 4,090, with 189,753 confirmed cases.
How coordinated are the global and regional responses to the COVID-19 outbreak? Does more need to be done?
“The global coordination… has been variable, with some regions doing better than others,” Dr. Osman Dar, director of the One Health Project at London’s Chatham House, told The Media Line via email.
The response in the Middle East region demonstrates this variability.
“Some of the medical material that the Mossad has brought into the country is the direct result of Israel’s warming ties with Arab states,” Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Media Line, referring to the Israeli external intelligence service.
“The cooperation between Israel and these former enemy states continues to grow in many areas,” he continued. “But the cooperation during a time of crisis is particularly encouraging.”
While pointing out that Israel and member-states of the Gulf Cooperation Council so far have successfully contained the pandemic, Dr. Banafsheh Keynoush, a US-based analyst, lamented a lack of wider coordination in the Middle East and North Africa, which could hamper broader containment efforts.
“Very little has been done collectively as a region due to [the] lack of political will or trust, and limited resources,” Keynoush said in an email sent to The Media Line.
Syria, for example, could be a ticking bomb when it comes to spreading the disease. As of Wednesday, the war-torn country was reporting 10 cases and two fatalities. The United Nations has warned of severe outbreaks if the illness spreads among Syrian refugees and the internally displaced.
But perhaps old foes can teach new lessons on cooperation during the crisis, for Israelis and Palestinians are working together to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
For example, Israeli medical teams are offering their Palestinian Authority counterparts in the West Bank training in how to deal with the disease. In Gaza, Israel is passing coronavirus test kits to Hamas via a border crossing.
“Two very separate arenas [exist] in the West Bank and Gaza, but in both cases we’re seeing Israeli involvement,” Yaakov Lappin, a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told The Media Line.
As of Wednesday, there were 5,591 confirmed cases and 23 deaths in Israel, while in the Palestinian territories there were 134 confirmed cases and one fatality.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a unit of Israel’s Defense Ministry, has also been working with Palestinian public health officials.
“It’s definitely an example of a medical crisis getting two sides to step up cooperation in their common interests,” Lappin said.
In another encouraging sign, the world scientific community appears to be stepping up its cooperation.
On Sunday, the US Food and Drug Administration announced approval of Phase Two trials for an Israeli drug that could treat Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a condition responsible for around 50% of coronavirus fatalities.
“It does seem that at the scientific and technical level, there is really quite a bit of coordination,” Amb. Charles Ries, a vice president at the RAND Corporation think tank, told The Media Line. “Scientists have deep international links and roots and habits that play into this.”
But Ries says more can be done on a joint basis to tackle coronavirus. His suggestions include avoiding trade barriers and export controls on important medical equipment such as masks, gloves and ventilators; lifting restrictions on subsidies for the domestic manufacture of goods related to the pandemic; requiring anyone who develops a vaccine to license the technology to everybody else for quick scale-up; and implementing a secure system to certify travelers who have immunity to the virus.
He adds that rapid testing should be widely available internationally.
And what about the different – and sometimes contradictory – approaches by governments? Measures vary by country, region, state and even city, covering lockdowns, curfews, social distancing, business closings and limits on travel.
“The coordination has often been worse in wealthier parts of the world, such as North America and Europe, where national governments and state or provincial authorities have adopted different approaches to social distancing and quarantine measures,” Chatham House’s Dar wrote.
According to Ries, transparency on the effectiveness of these measures is important if best practices are to be applied on a global scale.
“If governments can know about what other governments are trying, and what the results are, I think the international community can quickly absorb and apply the lessons,” he said.
Yet the World Health Organization is not receiving data from certain countries, and more than 70 have instituted international travel restrictions in defiance of the WHO, which has advised against such measures. Only 45 of the countries that have adopted international travel restrictions have reported actions to the agency, a requirement.
Dar said the WHO has learned lessons from past outbreaks, such as Ebola, but, like the United Nations and the World Bank, has been “less effective in the management and coordination of access to diagnostics and medical countermeasures, such as PPE [personal protective equipment].”
An example of information-sharing and close coordination during the coronavirus crisis is the case of the US and Israel, which established a joint working group and exchange mechanism for fighting the pandemic.
“We are seeing high-level Israeli-American coordination,” Ries said.
The US is providing financial assistance to hard-hit regions as well, so far committing to $274 million in funding via USAID and the State Department for 64 countries facing the most risk.
Where governments and international agencies have fallen short in supplying PPE and equipment for critical care and diagnostics, private funders such as the Jack Ma Foundation in China and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the US have stepped in.
The former recently donated face masks, face shields, test kits and protective gear to Israel, and the latter announced it was donating $3.7 million to support coronavirus relief efforts in the greater Seattle area.