Lessons from the Pandemic, No One Succeeds Without Everyone Succeeding

Following a year of turmoil in which waves of virus outbreaks and lockdowns have ebbed and flowed across regions, the countries of the world today find themselves in vastly different positions with respect to the pandemic. Some countries, like China, appear to have all but eradicated the virus. Others, like the US and the UK have passed significant milestones in terms of vaccination and are at the cusp of returning to normal levels of economic and social activity, with Europe now about a calendar quarter behind. Still others, like Chile, having ostensibly successfully vaccinated their population and opened up, are now fighting renewed waves of infections. And India, having weathered 2020 much better than many advanced economies, has become the epicentre of the pandemic due to a resurgence based on variants of virus, now recording over 350,000 daily new infections and rising death tolls that are threatening to push its healthcare system to the brink of collapse. 

Despite the progress registered by many countries over the past months, it is abundantly clear that the global coronavirus pandemic, at 150 million infected and over 3 million deaths to date, is far from over. As of this report, 51 countries are still seeing rising daily infection rates and the daily new confirmed cases of COVID-19 have recently exceeded 800,000, their highest rate yet. Despite an estimated 1.5 billion vaccinations, given this backdrop, it is clear that the wished-for return to normality during 2021 will be a regional one at best and potentially only a temporary one too, given the risk of vaccine resistant virus mutations arising in the remaining outbreak hotspots. 

On what is now the first anniversary of the Sign of the Times’ paper on waging the war against the pandemic1, a moment of respite for some and one of crisis for others, it is worth stepping back to assess what we have learnt about the virus, about fighting it and about each other in a time of unprecedented disruptions, in order to better equip the world for the second year of the pandemic before hopefully a new modus operandi emerges for the world. 


18 Lessons from the Pandemic

1. The coronavirus pandemic now ranks among the world’s deadliest in history, with modern medicine and technology saving lives of the infected

Despite its relatively (benign) epidemiological characteristics, the Coronavirus pandemic is among the five deadliest recorded in history, although its death toll has been several orders of magnitude lower than the leaders as a result of medicines and medical technologies that were not available in previous crises 


2. COVID-19 is not just a respiratory virus like the flu, it attacks other organs

COVID-19 is not influenza. It has significantly more severe symptoms and requires more intense and longer treatment to manage, with fewer positive treatment outcomes 

Sources: ‘Extrapulmonary manifestations of COVID-19’ Aakriti Gupta et al, Nature,,, July 2020; ONS Infection Survey, 26/4/20 to 6/3/21


3. Lockdowns Have Worked in Terms of Saving Lives 

On a like-for-like basis, countries that enacted lockdown measures in response to the virus fared significantly better than those that did not 


4. Speed is of the Essence in Enacting Containment Measures  

Closing down late, even a little late, leads to significant additional deaths that could otherwise be avoided


5. Lockdowns are Part of a Larger Set of Prevention Measures

Lockdowns have proven to be an essential part of a broad set of prevention measures required to be implemented by governments to stop the virus 


6. The Risks and Impact of COVID-19 Impact Vulnerable the Most

The risks of COVID-19 are unevenly distributed, with not just the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions impacted, but also socio-economically vulnerable groups, who face both health and economic risks from the virus 


7. Long COVID Represents a Significant Long Term Public Health Risk

 A sizeable portion of the population continues to suffer from long duration COVID, threatening their longer-term quality of life, and creating long term debilitated and incapacitated populations 
“Seven in 10 patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 had not fully recovered five months after being discharged.”
National Institute for Health Research


8. Medicines and Medical Capacity Can be Developed at Unprecedented Speeds

Vaccines can be developed and approved at greater speed than ever achieved or permitted before and they can be effective at protecting the population at a point in time. Governments around the world also added mega-facilities to treat tens of thousands of patients within weeks in countries across the world
Sources: WHO, CDC, College of Physicians of Philadelphia, National Institutes of Health Nov 2020


9. Mutations Highlight the Need for Global Vaccination

Any significant population can experience an infection spike that allows the virus to mutate, potentially overcoming existing vaccines and resetting progress against the pandemic. It is uncertain whether this is only true for unvaccinated or uninfected populations only


10. New Virus Strains Create the Risk of a “Forever War”