The International Community Has One Job: Getting COVID-19 Under Control

April 23, 2021


Feeling good today? Have you and your family scheduled or received your vaccine? Are you planning your wedding, Memorial Day barbeques, or summer vacation? Ready to turn the chapter on COVID-19 and get on with life? 

You’re not alone. Many Americans have COVID-19 fatigue—and the privilege of planning for a better near-term future.

And judging by their actions, the international community also appears ready to move on to other business—and business as usual. The World Bank just announced its early launch of fundraising for IDA20; the replenishment call makes no explicit mention of health and refers to COVID-19 obliquely under the title of “crisis response.” The UK, host of the G7, has cut aid almost in half during the worst crisis ever experienced. The US continues to sit on a growing unused (and unapproved!) vaccine stockpile and to block export of essential vaccine manufacturing components.

We must ask: What world are these leaders living in?

In the real world, we’re still in acute crisis. Yesterday, India posted a world record for number of COVID-19 cases in a day—about 315,000—with exponential growth showing no signs of slowing. The Financial Times reports that “crematoriums and burial grounds cannot cope with the sheer number of corpses.” India’s oxygen supplies are running out; patients are dying, gasping for breath as desperate families loot supply lines and hospitals. And the crisis was entirely predictable. Because the same thing had happened several weeks before in Peru, Brazil, and Ecuador—and in Mexico, London, South Africa, Los Angeles, New York, Lombardy, Spain, Iran, and Wuhan before that. And still the wishful thinking—as if this wave is the last wave; as if we don’t already know how variants arise, spread, and evade acquired immunity; as if American or British or Chinese humans are any different from “your” humans.

Enough. We cannot continue business as usual. Until this crisis is over—and over everywhere—exiting the COVID-19 mass casualty event must be the singular focus of the international community. No other international meetings or fundraising efforts; no “recovery” from COVID-19 amidst a deepening crisis; no “post-COVID” positioning and turf wars; no post-mortems while the body count is still accumulating. No more using COVID-19 to highlight your pet issues and other global challenges (no matter how valid or important they may be), if doing so distracts from the core task of ending the pandemic. No more ideological posturing or moral self-righteousness divorced from practical reality.

Instead, we need a definitive, coordinated, and dedicated all-hands-on-deck response to COVID-19. Miraculously, we have enough efficacious vaccine to reach the whole world; 9 billion doses will be manufactured in 2021 according to conservative estimates. We need enough money to fully finance the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A). We need every country to pre-purchase doses sufficient to reach at least 60 percent coverage. We need a total focus on delivering manufacture, allocation, and roll-out of vaccines—and that means any safe and effective vaccine. We need donation when there are surplus and un-demanded doses. We need stepped-up surveillance of variants. We need more money to finance better, cheaper diagnostics and therapies. We need international humanitarian surge capacity or military cooperation to attend to the sick and dying.

These costs are infinitesimal compared to human and economic cost of the continuing global pandemic. This should not be hard.

And it’s not just the international response. We also need to fix the domestic complacency that has characterized national responses to date, allowing leaders to ignore warning signs until infections mount to disastrous levels. A US administration that downplayed risk and discouraged effective mitigation. An Indian government that did not pre-purchase sufficient vaccine to protect its own population. A UK government that fiercely resisted new control measures until the “UK variant” entered the global vocabulary. The Brazilian leadership (or lack thereof) that allowed a dangerous variant to devastate its cities and spread all over the world.

We have seen calls for solidarity and kindness fall on deaf ears—it is time to stop hoping or pretending that this will be enough. What’s really needed is concerted action, dedicated financing, and a pact among nations to finally deal with COVID-19. An ambitious climate summit was held this week; how could we not have held the COVID-19 response summit first?

You have one job.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.

Image credit for social media/web: IMF Photo/James Oatway