The Shame of the Rich World Super Spreader by Ngaire Woods and Anna Petherick

G20 countries let the rest of the world down during the pandemic, including serving as super viral diffusers. To compensate, they must meet global immunization commitments and set new international standards for pathogen surveillance and travel.

OXFORD – G20 Leaders meet in Rome at the end of October, in part to discuss how to deal with future pandemics. But the truth is that the actions of their countries have largely fueled the present.

Many G20 countries have been super spreaders of COVID-19. Following the transmission of the coronavirus beyond China, which initially sought to cancel notification of the outbreak, the United States and other wealthy countries saw early failures that greatly contributed to the global spread. virus. If they had acted sooner, they could at least have slowed its transmission to the poorest countries. Worse yet, their failure to commit to vaccinating the entire world as quickly as possible has created a self-destructive cycle where more transmissible and harmful variants of the virus are found. likely to be unleashed.

Statistical models show that international air travel was the key factor in the global spread of COVID-19 until early March last year. This is confirmed by the charts below, which detail the spread of the Alpha variant (also known as the British or Kent variant) and the frequency of air travel to various countries from London airports in October 2020. Spain, Italy and Germany were the main players in the propagation of the Alpha variant.

Data from the start of the pandemic allows us to see how different strains of the virus emerged over time. If we put this information next to the data of the Monitoring Oxford Government Responses COVID-19 (OxCGRT) Regarding government policies, we can pinpoint the details of the spread of the disease. Among the G20 countries, the failures of the United States and the United Kingdom stand out.

New York was one of the first super-spreading cities. It recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on February 29, 2020, about a month after the United States restricted travel from parts of China. But even though COVID-19 was raging in Italy, the United States only introduced restrictions on people arriving from mainland Europe on March 13, two days after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic; and it was not until March 16 that he extended them to arrivals from the UK and Ireland.

Viral sequence data demonstrates that the virus did not travel directly from China to New York. Instead, the reluctance of the United States to restrict travel from Europe was largely responsible for the multiple introductions of the virus, which have left the city with the huge death toll.

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Additionally, interstate travel to the United States largely continued during the closures. OxCGRT data shows 17 U.S. states have never stopped it since the pandemic began. The similar mix of viral lineages at the start of the pandemic across the United States indicates that reintroductions of the virus were common even in places that had eliminated an original strain. Research combining air travel data and genomics has concluded that the spread of COVID-19 in the United States resulted more from domestic introductions than international air travel.

The UK was another super spreader with an extremely slow pandemic response, given where and when genomics now tells us the virus was circulating. In this regard, the UK COVID-19 Genomics Consortium (COG-UK), the largest of its kind in the world, has sequenced more than 26,000 viral isolates from people who caught COVID-19 in the UK’s first wave, and compared these sequences with those of others country.

Two main conclusions emerge. First, Europe was the source of the first infections in the UK. Until the end of June 2020, 80% of the imported viruses arrived during the one month period of February 27 to March 30, and these were mostly from Europe. A third of them were from Spain, 29% from France and 12% from Italy – and just 0.4% from China.

Second, inbound travel fueled the arrival of many new genetic lines to the UK, with the rate of these appearances among the infected population peaking in late March 2020. When the UK finally introduced non-pharmaceutical interventions en masse ( IPN), causing tthe country score on the OxCGRT severity index to go from 17 out of 100 to almost 80 in just one week – the diversity of viral isolates has started to decline. In other words, the NPIs were successful in extinguishing many of these lineages in the UK.

These failures call into question more broadly the management of the pandemic by the G20 countries. If the world’s major advanced economies had stopped newcomers earlier (especially travelers from Europe) and had limited internal travel, they would have reduced their own devastation from COVID-19.

Restricting the export of infections would have slowed or perhaps even largely prevented the spread of the disease to poorer countries until vaccines were developed. That, in turn, could have avoided costly blockages in places that could hardly afford them. G20 governments have focused on preventing the importation of the virus, not its export. In retrospect, the virus would have been contained had it required repeated negative tests for anyone boarding a plane or exiting a quarantine facility.

After accelerating the spread of COVID-19, wealthier countries are now procrastinating to provide vaccines to those who need them most. Rich countries have stockpiled doses, prioritized immunizing children who are at relatively very low risk of COVID-19, and are even preparing third “booster shots” for which there is no evidence yet. ‘a generalized and short-term need.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 is ravaging developing countries, where frontline health workers are dying because they lack access to vaccines. The pandemic has already killed more people around the world in 2021 than in 2020. Many experts are very concerned about the further spread of the Delta variant, as well as other variants to come, especially in areas where vaccination is slowly progressing.

G20 countries must make up for their failure in the face of COVID-19 and commit to vaccinating those most at risk around the world. And as super-connected countries, they also need to set new international standards for pathogen surveillance and travel protocols to ensure they never spread again.

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