The Covid-19 pandemic has caught every major capitalist country unawares, and as the battle to contain the spread of the virus continues, some thought is now belatedly being given to how things should be done differently in future.

The rich countries’ club, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has begun a series of blogs on “what we are learning”: one from health expert Francesca Colombo noted on April 2 that:

“all 36 OECD countries have ramped up efforts to contain this tsunami of viral infections. Social distancing, measures to detect and trace new cases, as well as improved personal and environmental hygiene, are all contributing to mitigate the huge pressure on healthcare systems. Yet such measures have different levels of effectiveness, and therefore implementing them as a package is the most effective way to maximise overall impact.”

More conspicuously, the unprecedented demands of the pandemic have meant some countries have been taking long overdue steps to improve access to health care, “highlighting the importance of high quality universal health coverage.”

Colombo reveals the shocking fact that in more than one in five of the world’s richest countries “20% of people forego care due to long waiting times or travel distance, and 17% because costs were too high.”

The response to the virus means that “specific measures have been introduced to cover diagnostic testing and regulate their prices, for example, in the United States, Germany and France.”

She goes on to identify three major lessons, including the need:

  • to strengthen disease surveillance mechanisms and health information infrastructures
  • and for strengthened co-ordination across countries

But perhaps most significant in the British context, after a decade of austerity has stripped out thousands of acute beds and slashed spending on public health:

“the crisis has exposed the importance of having adaptable health systemsLack of any sort of excess capacity can leave countries vulnerable to an unexpected demand surge. The availability of hospital beds and their occupancy rates vary greatly across OECD countries.”

Colombo also stresses the need for “ … Equipping health systems with reserve capacity … such as a “reserve army” of health professionals that can be quickly mobilised; storing a reserve capacity of supplies such as personal protection equipment; and maintaining care beds that could be quickly transformed into acute care beds.”

How many OECD countries will seriously learn these simple lessons? And how many are looking for the first opportunity to switch things back to ‘business as usual’?

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