Yesterday, March 11, marked two years to the day since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic, finally shaking many countries that had been in denial into action against a highly infectious disease that had already taken sunk its teeth into humanity by then.
The once-in-a-century pandemic has since turned the world upside down, claiming more than six million lives and infecting at least 450 million. Economies crashed and floundered as nations responded with lockdowns and quarantines of varying degrees.
The WHO had already declared a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) – the highest level of alarm in the global health regulations – on January 30, 2020, when, outside of China where the disease originated, fewer than 100 cases and no deaths had been reported.
But it was only on March 11, 2020, when WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the worsening situation as a pandemic that many countries seemed to wake up to the danger.
The WHO is not marking the anniversary as two years on, it is still irked that governments failed to heed the original alert. WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan believes the warning in January was way more important than the announcement in March but the PHEIC declaration unfortunately fell on deaf ears.
“People weren’t listening. We were ringing the bell and people weren’t acting,” Ryan told a live interaction on the WHO social media channels on Thursday.
By March 11, 2020, the number of cases outside China had increased 13-fold, with more than 118,000 people infected in 114 countries, and 4,291 having lost their lives.
As we remember the 2nd anniversary of the declaration of a once-in-a-century pandemic that upended our lives, we can only hope that everyone concerned, especially those in positions of leadership and responsibility, learned the most important lessons from our experiences over the past two years. Our still-recovering world needs leaders who are always listening to the experts and ready to act upon warnings, always prioritizing the health and welfare of majority instead of vested interests and popularity ratings.
The COVID-19 pandemic should’ve taught us valuable lessons. Hopefully our current and future leaders have taken those lessons to heart so we don’t have to go through another pandemic as debilitating as it again.*