Pontifical science academies urge better responses to coronavirus

Travellers at an airport in Chengdu China wear masks to prevent infection from coronavirus Jan 23 2019 Credit BZhou Shutterstock Travellers at an airport in Chengdu, China wear masks to prevent infection from coronavirus. | B.Zhou/Shutterstock.

The pontifical science academies issued a health statement Friday encouraging world leaders to make adjustments to short- and long-term responses to the coronavirus.

The statement was released March 20 by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. It was contributed to by nearly 20 international science leaders appointed by Pope Francis.

The leaders expressed gratitude for the "tremendous services" provided by medical professionals amid the coronavirus pandemic, but stressed that challenges and ramifications remain.

They pointed to five areas in need of improvement - earlier responses, greater support of scientific communities, better protection of vulnerable people, stronger global interdependencies, and richer compassion.

According to the statement, all countries need to focus on early action by strengthening the health care systems, especially improving warning procedures. The experts criticized the failure of governments, public institutions, and the media to respond adequately to the coronavirus.

They said the response must also be led by civil society, including distribution actions by local communities. While the pandemic limits face-to-face interaction, they said communication technology must be improved.

"It is vitally important to get ahead of the curve in dealing with such global crises. We emphasize that public health measures must be initiated instantaneously in every country to combat the continuing spread of this virus. The need for testing at scale must be recognized and acted upon, and people who test positive for COVID-19 must be quarantined, along with their close contacts," the statement reads.

The support for scientific communities should be expanded on. They said there should be a better understanding of zoonotic diseases, such as infectious illnesses caused by bacteria or viruses that are spread to humans from animals.

They said this might also require the reshaping of food-related animal production systems to reduce the risk of zoonotic diseases and involve greater research into human behavior under psychological stress better to understand the government's response.

"Strengthening basic research enhances the capacity to detect, to respond, and to ultimately prevent or at least mitigate catastrophes such as pandemics. Science needs better funding at a national and transnational level, so that scientists have the means to discover the right drugs and vaccines. Pharmaceutical companies have a key responsibility to produce those drugs at scale if possible," they said.

The experts said steps should be taken to protect vulnerable people, such as medical workers or poorer persons, from being infected with the virus. They said the pandemic and short-sighted responses may lead to heavy damages to the economy, ultimately harming food production.

"Broad-based policy action in the field of public health is essential in all countries to protect poor and vulnerable people from the virus. COVID-19 will also have an adverse impact on worldwide economies. Unless mitigated, the anticipated disrupting consequences on food production and supply, and numerous other systems, will hurt especially the poor," they said.

"Pandemics represent a threat to the millions of refugees, migrants and forcibly displaced. We implore the global community to intensify efforts to protect the most vulnerable among us."

While the world's correspondence has increased the flow of goods, ideas, and other benefits, at time of an infectious disease, the interconnectedness makes it difficult to contain the virus. The statement pointed to the need for an increase in global partnerships.

In response to the outbreak, the world has turned to isolation, they said, but this sort of defense against the virus can be counterproductive. Rather, they said transnational and international organizations need to be equipped to handle global cooperation.

"Mitigation measures to curb the rapid spread of contagion sometimes require closing borders around affected hotspots. Nevertheless, national borders must not become barriers hindering help across nations. Human resources, equipment, knowledge about best practices, treatments, and supplies must be shared," they said.

"We insist that global crises demand collective action. The prevention and containment of pandemics is a global public good and protecting it requires increased global coordination as well as temporary and adaptive decoupling."

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Compassion and solidarity must also be strengthened, they said, noting that churches and other faith-based communities are valuable contributors.

"A lesson the virus is teaching us is that freedom cannot be enjoyed without responsibility and solidarity. Freedom divorced from solidarity breeds pure and destructive egoism. Nobody can succeed alone. The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to become more conscious of how important good relationships are in our lives."

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