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European and Global Responses to Covid-19

April 12, 2021


Debarati Guha-Sapir, School of Public Health, University of Louvain
Michael Leigh, Senior Adjunct Professor of European and Eurasian Studies, SAIS Europe

The discussion began with Guha-Sapir addressing the challenges of the Covid-19 response. To start, Guha-Sapir clarified that, as an epidemiologist, she specializes on emergency response after humanitarian or natural crises. The focus of the field, however, is on the risk factors related to a disease spread. In that sense, a historic challenge has been related to solutions—vaccines—roll-out and distribution in the midst of a pandemic or epidemic. The key issue is getting to a place where a vaccine is available as a response, and then, how to get jabs into arms. 

Specifically looking at the EU, Guha-Sapir mentioned the recently created ‘Team Europe’ equipped with €38bn in order to aid the European neighborhood. The problem, she mentioned, is that the source of the capital came from reallocation. A second challenge for Team Europe, is the lack of long-term vision in global pandemic responses. The problem is that it mostly focuses on supplies funding, i.e., masks, ventilators, etc. Guha-Sapir argued that this is a narrow vision on a pandemic response. 

Before opening up the floor to questions, Guha-Sapir pointed at three important lessons from the current pandemic. First, she noted the importance of breakage of international silos through global cooperation, an illustration is the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine. Second, she mentioned the potential of new digital and analytical tools related to mobility control, enabling the discovery of pandemic origins and transmission path. Third and final, the need for international public health systems that enable stronger diagnosis, testing, vaccine development, surveillance and prevention. These three areas are key since the type of knee-jerk reactions Covid-19 witnessed is not going to be enough in the future. 

To conclude, a panel of students and Leigh posted questions, mostly related to the European response and how the pandemic is going to play out in the future. Some key remarks Guha-Sapir left the audience with were the prognosis of a strong recovery in OECD countries with fall in hospitalizations and deaths as vaccines, alongside treatment, further develop. For the rest of the world, however, she mentioned it was much more difficult to estimate how things will play out. Regarding important lessons for policymakers and