Joanne Liu is a professor at the School of Population and Global Health at McGill University and a practising physician. Rosemary McCarney is a senior fellow of foreign and defence policy at Massey College at the University of Toronto.
Canada’s place in the world community is determined when we lead internationally, and our leaders step up to the defining moments of our time. We did so when Canadians resolved the Suez Canal crisis by proposing peacekeepers for the first time. We did it again when we brought together a likeminded community to end apartheid in South Africa. We led the negotiations for a treaty to ban landmines when no one thought it was possible.
With that same vision and leadership, Canada can seize this defining moment and help to end COVID-19. It has already begun as a leading donor to the ACT-Accelerator, a global collaboration aimed at facilitating co-operation on the disease.
Here is what we are facing. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow. More than 10,000 people died from COVID-19 yesterday and will again today. Globally, case numbers are close to record highs. As most people around the world won’t be vaccinated anytime soon, we will hit a grim global death toll of four million before the end of summer. As this virus spreads, new variants emerge and make their way back to Canada. It’s hard to picture an end.
But, with multilateral leadership, this pandemic can be curbed, and the next one prevented entirely. These are the findings of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, an expert body that we have been a part of over the past eight months, as a member of the Panel and of the secretariat. The Panel released its report last week, after gathering extensive evidence and listening to hundreds of people directly, including health workers, global experts, civil society and governments.
The report, COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic, lays out a tough, specific and achievable pathway out of this pandemic and sets out clearly what must be done now to prevent the next one. Canada should lead implementation of the Panel’s recommendations.
In the next 100 days, Canada can take immediate actions to halt the current pandemic. Canada should declare that it will no longer draw down from the COVAX vaccine supply. While it’s entitled to do so, diverting vaccines intended for poorer countries does not sit well with Canadians.
Canada has enough vaccine in its pipeline to protect every Canadian many times over. Supply is not our challenge. That is why the Panel is calling for high-income countries like Canada to share a collective total of one billion doses of available surplus vaccine doses through the COVAX platform, specifically for 92 low- and middle-income countries, by Sept. 1.
Canada needs to advocate for vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers, under the auspices of the WHO and WTO, for an agreement on voluntary licensing and technology transfer arrangements. If this does not materialize within the next three months, Canada should support a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights under the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs). This is in keeping with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s July, 2020, call for equitable distribution of COVID vaccines, wherein he and other leaders made clear that where you live shouldn’t determine whether you live.
Canada should assemble a coalition to negotiate a political declaration at the UN General Assembly to raise pandemic threats to the same level as other existential threats, such as nuclear accidents, and to establish a “global health threats” council led by heads of state. Pandemic preparedness and response is a matter for presidents and prime ministers.
In the next 200 days, Canada should convene a coalition of countries to take action on areas that will prevent a future pandemic. This includes establishing a pandemic financing facility for low-income countries. It should encompass both preparedness financing and surge capacity response financing. We did the math. It’s a matter of investing billions to save trillions.
It’s also imperative to negotiate and conclude a pandemic framework convention to address gaps in the global surveillance, detection, response and governance system that failed us so badly this time. Countries need to be accountable for failures to act and failures to prepare.
The Independent Panel has been driven by facts, science and emerging evidence. Its package of specific recommendations implemented as a whole is our best chance of ending this pandemic and making it the last.
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